Claudia Hammond hosts this event which was recorded live at the Wellcome Collection in December 2015.
Professor Irene Tracey and her team at the University of Oxford have spent close to 18 years using advanced neuroimaging techniques to explore the human brain and spinal cord responses when people experience pain, relief and pleasure.
In this audience discussion, she talks about the distinction between good, healthy acute pain, and chronic pain, when the system goes wrong. One in five people have chronic pain, and it has come to be seen as a disease in its own right, with new drugs in the pipeline.
Irene and her group have been finding out more about why people have different pain experiences, by looking at the differing ways in which their central nervous systems are wired up. They have also done experiments which have essentially proved that you 'get the pain you expect' - so if you're anxious it will actually hurt more.
The discussion concludes by touching on Irene's latest work, which is looking at how to personalise the amount of anaesthetic a patient will need in order to be in the best state for major surgery. This pioneering work may help us eventually to understand much more about perception and altered states of consciousness.