Beechers Perception of pain


Dr. Henry K. Beecher was a medical officer during the 2nd World War, who later on in his career became a an expert in pain at Harvard.

Beecher compared the responses of civilians to that of Armed Services Personnel when asked two simple questions on admittance to hospital with an injury.

The questions were:

  • 1. Are you in pain?
  • 2. Do you want Morphine?

The responses Beecher received were very interesting:

  • 70% of the Armed Services Personnel said they WERE NOT in pain and DID NOT want Morphine
  • 70% of Civilians said they WERE in pain and DID want Morphine

Beecher concluded that the way each group perceived their pain was the difference. For example the Armed Services Personnel were pleased to be alive and in hospital, a safer place than the battle field where their injuries were sustained. Civilians on the other hand are in worse situation that their normal day to day life and considering the inconveniences that the injuries will cause to their work and family lifes.

So it is the emotions and the perspectives we add to the pain which decides the amount of discomfort we will feel and not just the injury itself. This differs from Decartes theory, which coincidentally many doctors still follow today, of cause and effect i.e. A blow causes tissues damage and the pain travels along the nerve fibers to the brain and rings the pain bell and does not take any other factors into account.

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