Magazine article Science News

Pain Produces Memory Gain: High Heat Improves Recall of Objects a Year Later, Study Finds

Magazine article Science News

Pain Produces Memory Gain: High Heat Improves Recall of Objects a Year Later, Study Finds

Article excerpt

Pain can sear memories into the brain, a new study finds. A year after viewing a picture of a random, neutral object, people remembered it better if they had been feeling painful heat when they first saw it.

"The results are fun, they are interesting and they are provocative," says neuroscientist A. Vania Apkarian of Northwestern University in Chicago.

Neuroscientists G. Elliott Wimmer and Christian Buchel of University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany reported the results in a paper first posted at bioRxiv.org December 24 and revised January 6. The findings are under review at a journal, and Wimmer declined to comment on the study until it is accepted for publication.

Wimmer and Bfichel recruited 31 brave souls who agreed to feel painful heat delivered by a thermode on their left forearms. Each person's pain sensitivity was used to calibrate the amount of heat they received in the experiment, which was either not painful (a 2 on an 8-point scale) or the highest a person could endure multiple times (an 8). While undergoing a functional MRI scan, participants looked at a series of pictures of unremarkable household objects, such as a camera, sometimes feeling strong pain and sometimes not.

Right after seeing the images, the participants took a pop quiz in which they answered whether an image was familiar. Pain didn't influence memory right away: Participants remembered about three-quarters of the previously seen objects, regardless of whether pain was present, the researchers found. …

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