What colour is your pain?

If pain had a colour what would it be? Perhaps a throbbing headache would be a deep purple while a night-time leg cramp might be an intense flash of red jolting you from your slumber? If you were asked to describe the colour of your pain what would it be? And are there common colours associated with different types of pain?

Sometime ago I worked on an Arthritis Research UK (ARUK) stand at the Manchester Science Festival. Members of the public were asked to tie ribbons onto a skeleton to show where they experienced pain. The result was fascinating – so many people had knee problems! What was also fascinating to me was the public’s willingness to share their pain stories and get involved with demonstrating where their pain appeared. After this event it occurred to me that people might associate pain with, or experienced it as, a colour but I had no way of testing this theory. Then, I spotted a notice for the Citizen Scientist Showcase, part of the Manchester Science Festival. They were looking for members of the public to set up a stall and promote their own project as part of the Salford Science Jam. Just the avenue I was looking for! This means that I now get to explore my idea, and festival visitors get to contribute to an amazing visual mosaic that has an artistic value all its own.

My idea is really simple. Members of the public use a post-it note, piece of paper or maybe even a tablet if we can get the whole thing digitised to draw the colour, and possibly the shape, of their pain. I’m expecting everything from red blobs to electric green squiggles. These individual pieces of art will then be collected and displayed as a wall mural / mosaic showing the full spectrum of colours and shapes making up our perceptions of pain.

At the end of the day we will have a mosaic which beautifully combines the science and art behind our pain. The beauty of the exercise is that it can be carried out time and again either as a stand-alone piece or as part of a larger project with each event feeding into a larger work of art. I hope that this little project will create a legacy, perhaps informing further pieces of research looking at how colour can be used to help people describe their pain symptoms. Perhaps this could even lead to new avenues in the alleviation or relief of pain!

The Citizen Science Showcase takes place at Salford University’s Media City Campus on Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd October from 11.00 am to 4.00pm each day.

I’m really excited about working on my first piece of “research”. So, if you would like to contribute to this work or have any comments or advice, I love to hear from you.

Post by: Kay Gallacher


2 thoughts on “What colour is your pain?”

  1. You might be interested in our work with children which asked them to create images and use colours to describe their pain. We have now incorporated this work in to an ‘app’ to allow them to record their experiences of pain.

  2. Hi Lis, yes I am very interested in your ‘app’ and your colour work with children. My experiment is more “old school” using card and blu tac. Maybe we can speak after the event at the weekend to see if there is any commonality in our findings.

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