Nociception, Pain, Consciousness, and Society: A Plea for Constrained Use of Pain-related Terminologies

A. Vania Apkarian*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


This focus article addresses the issue of the proper use of terminology in pain research. A review and some revisions of the definitions of pain and nociception in relation to consciousness are presented. From a behavioral viewpoint, it is argued that pain is a conscious assessment of the failure of the organism to protect the body from injury (actual or potential), whereas continuously ongoing subconscious/preconscious nociceptive processes protect the body from injuries. Thus pain perception/behavior requires the subjective ability to evaluate the environment and form coordinated responses. Yet, too often, our literature conflates the 2 concepts, resulting in a confusion that impacts on society. The issue is especially topical as the US Senate has been voting on a bill called the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. The title of the bill itself does not make sense if we adhere to the strict definitions commonly accepted in our field. Thus this article concludes with a plea to properly constrain the narrative with which we describe our research and minimize potential abuse of the science of pain for political interests. Perspective: The focus article goes over the classic definitions of pain and nociception, incorporates novel concepts recently advanced as to their functional differentiation, and is a plea for our research and clinical society to adhere to the proper use of these terms to minimize misinterpretation by society at large.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1253-1255
Number of pages3
JournalJournal of Pain
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2018


  • Terminology
  • consciousness
  • fetus
  • nociception
  • pain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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