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Today, the University of Louisville has announced the recipient of the 2010 Grawemeyer Award for psychology. WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer reports.

psychology Ronald MelzackPeople often say pain is all in your head — and Ronald Melzack has spent his career researching just how true that is and how pain works. Melzack is a professor at Montreal’s McGill University and developed the McGill Pain Questionnaire. It  measures sensory and emotional aspects of pain and is used by medical establishments worldwide. He says he began working on it after taking note of patients using a wide vocabulary to describe their pain.

“I had more then 100 words that described pain and began to sort them into groups,” he says. “Then at MIT I met a superb statistician, we put the words into groups and gave the words a value: how much pain is involved.”

He also developed the Gate Control Theory of Pain that proposes pain is felt in the brain and not at a point of injury. Melzack says the theory considers both the physical and psychological aspects at work when one feel’s pain, and it proposed that people could change their pain by using emotional processes.

“Our psychological concept of the pain and what we think of it or if we think it’s going to kill us or what — that has an impact on how much pain we feel,” he says.

The theory led him to define two types of pain, acute and prolonged and the role of psychology in perceiving pain.

“The psychological features are very important,” he says. “It is not like a telephone system, where you simply dial in pain and the bell rings up in the head. That was the prevailing view when I first started to work in the field.”

Malzack’s work helped better understand phantom limb pain experienced by amputees and illnesses like fibromyalgia.

Each year, the Grawemeyer Foundation at U of L gives awards for psychology, outstanding works in music composition, ideas improving world order, education and religion.