Does subjecting a person to pain reduce his cognitive abilities?

If so, what is the process that reduces the ability? (By process, I mean the changes happening in the nervous system as a result of the pain and the subsequent loss of cognitive abilities)

Does this differ with gender?

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    $\begingroup$ I would say there is no doubt it does. But I have no studies to back me up here. $\endgroup$ – Josh Jun 7 '12 at 15:26
  • $\begingroup$ Note that "cognitive abilities" is extremely vague; there's short-term memory, long-term planning, speech functions, visual recognition, language comprehension, basic autonomous functionality... while I think people understand what you're getting it, you may get a more useful answer with a more specific question. $\endgroup$ – eykanal Jun 8 '12 at 14:39

For the purposes of this question, it would likely be useful to consider "pain" as simply a stimulus demanding the attention of the individual. In this light, any decrease in "cognitive abilities"—however you define that phrase—would likely be explainable as resultant from the same cognitive decrease that accompanies multitasking (or "task switching", as it is sometimes referred to) in general, which is a well-known and well-published finding.

Relevant papers can be found at the above link.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm not a researcher in pain but this doesn't make sense to me. One's perception of pain is very often much stronger than other perceptions, and thus I think it's more detrimental to cognitive abilities than, say, needing to eat or needing to urinate. $\endgroup$ – Josh Jun 8 '12 at 13:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Josh - Forgetting for a moment that pain comes in gradations (mild bump to, say, missing an arm), that's completely in agreement with what I wrote. It's a fight for cognitive resources. If the OP is suggesting there is a decrease in "cognitive abilities" (which, again, should probably be defined) that is *pain-specific*—i.e. the only reason there's a decrease is because of activated sensory neurons related to pain—I'm not familiar with any such research. $\endgroup$ – eykanal Jun 8 '12 at 13:49

Yes is does. I know from personal experience that if I have a sinus headache or any other type of pain it hinders my work (software developer). I do not believe gender would make any difference, however I do know studies have been done and have proven that red haired people tend to be able to tolerate more pain.

Here is a couple of references for you

Disruption of Attention and Working Memory Traces in Individuals with Chronic Pain - http://www.anesthesia-analgesia.org/content/104/5/1223.full

Red Hair and Pain - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_hair#Pain_tolerance_and_injury

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