Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Pain: Past, Present and Future

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Pain: Past, Present and Future

Article excerpt

Abstract Descartes' concept that pain is produced by a direct, straight - throug h transmission system from injured tissues in the body to a pain centre in the brain has domina ted pain research and therapy until recently. The gate control theory of pain, published in 1965, proposes that a mechanism in the dorsal horns of the spinal cord acts like a gate which inhibits or facilitates transmission from the body to the brain on the basis of the diameters of the act ive peripheral fibers as well as the dynamic action of brain processes. As a result, psychologi cal variables such as past experience, attention and other cognitive activities have been integrate d into current research and therapy on pain processes. The gate control theory, however, is not able to explain several chronic pain problems, such as phantom limb pain, which require a greate r understanding of brain mechanisms. A new theory of brain function, together with recent research that has derived from it, are described. They throw light on complex pa in problems and have important implications for basic assumptions in psychology.

Resume Le concept de Descartes selon lequel la douleur est produite par un syste me de transmission directe de la douleur, depuis les tissus blesses dans le corps j usqu'a un centre de la douleur dans le cerveau, a oriente les recherches sur la douleur et la therapie jusqu'a tout recemment. Selon la theorie du controle d'entree, qui remonte a 1965, un mecanisme loge dans les cornes superieures de la moelle agit comme une barriere inhibant ou facilitant la transmission de la douleur, du corps au cerve au, en fonction des diametres des fibres peripheriques actives et de l'action dynamique des proc essus cerebraux. Des variables psychologiques telles l'experience et l'attention et d' autres facteurs cognitifs ont donc ete integres aux recherches actuelles sur les proces sus relies a la douleur, ainsi qu'a la therapie. La theorie du controle d'entree ne permet cependant pas d'expliquer plusieurs problemes chroniques, dont la douleur du membre fantome, qui exigent une plus grande comprehension des mecanismes cerebraux. Le rapport renferme la description d'une noubelle theorie de la fonction cervica le et des recherches effectuees recemment a partir de cette theorie. Ces recherches jutten t une lumiere sur les problemes complexes relies a la douleur et ont d'importantes repercussions sur les hypotheses de base en psychologie.

The theory of pain which we inherited in the 20th century was proposed by Descar tes three centuries earlier. Descartes was the first philosopher to be influenced by the s cientific method which flourished in the 17th century, and he achieved a major revolution by argu ing that the body works like a machine that can be studied by using the experimental methods of physics pioneered by Galileo and others. Although humans, Descartes proposed, have a sou l (or mind), the human body is nevertheless a machine like an animal's body.

The impact of Descartes' theory was enormous. The history of experiments on the anatomy and physiology of pain during the past century (reviewed in Melzack and Wall, 1962, 1988) is marked by a search for specific pain fibers and pathways and a pain center in th e brain. The result was a concept of pain as a straight - through sensory projection system. This rigid anatomy of pain in the 1950s led to attempts to treat severe chronic pain by a v ariety of neurosurgical lesions. Descartes' theory, then, determined the "facts" as they w ere known up to the middle of this century, and even determined therapy.

The power of theory was summarized briefly by D.O. Hebb (1975, pp. 5 - 9): "The 'real world' is a construct, and some of the peculiarities of scientific thought become more intelligible when this fact is recognized ... Einstein himself in 1926 told Heisenberg it was nons ense to found a theory on observable facts alone: 'In reality the very opposite happens. It is t heory which decides what we can observe. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.