Forgetting to remember? Prospective memory within the context of pain

R Gatzounis*, M.G.S. Schrooten, G Crombez, J W S Vlaeyen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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BACKGROUND: Pain interferes with cognitive functioning in several ways. Among other symptoms, pain patients often report difficulties with remembering future intentions. It remains unclear, however, whether it is the pain per se that impairs prospective remembering or other factors that often characterize people with pain (e.g. poor sleep quality). In this experiment, we investigated whether prospective memory is impaired within the context of pain, and whether this impairment is enhanced when the threat value of pain is increased.

METHODS: Healthy participants engaged in an ongoing word categorization task, during which they received either experimental pain stimuli (with or without threatening instructions designed to increase the threat value of pain), or no pain stimuli (no somatic stimuli and no threatening instructions). Crucially, participants were also instructed to perform a prospective memory intention on future moments that would be signalled by specific retrieval cues.

RESULTS: Threatening instructions did not differentiate the pain groups in terms of pain threat value; therefore, we only focus on the difference between pain and no pain. Pain and no-pain groups performed the prospective memory intention with similar frequency, indicating that prospective memory is not necessarily impaired when the intended action has to be performed in a painful context.

CONCLUSIONS: Findings are discussed in the framework of the multiprocess theory of prospective memory, which differentiates between the spontaneous and the strategic retrieval of intentions. Methodological considerations and suggestions for future research are discussed.

SIGNIFICANCE: This laboratory study combines established methods from two research fields to investigate the effects of a painful context on memory for future intentions. Painful context did not impair performance of a prospective memory intention that is assumed to be retrieved by means of spontaneous processing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)614-625
Number of pages12
JournalEuropean Journal of Pain
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018


  • Pain/psychology
  • Humans
  • Memory, Episodic
  • Male
  • Cognition
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Young Adult
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Cues
  • Mental Recall
  • Attention
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders/psychology
  • Adolescent
  • Intention

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