How we feel and respond to pain depends not only on physiology, but also on socio-psychological circumstances. The authors of the new study point out that there is a stereotype in Western society that a man should stoically endure pain. He should be especially persistent in the presence of women. Some studies support this expectation that men were able to tolerate pain longer when it was caused by women.
Following the same stereotype about standard gender roles, a woman can be expected to react more expressively to pain in the presence of a man in order to appear more vulnerable and attract attention. However, at least one study showed the opposite: women tolerated pain better when the experimenter was a man.
The scientific evidence for how gender influences pain perception remains controversial. Some studies have not found any connection between the feeling of pain and the gender of the people who caused and felt it.
Pain is like a disaster
Sex differences in pain perception can be explained by a specific psychological aspect – the catastrophization of pain. This is the name of an exaggerated negative assessment of pain, attributing excessive intensity to it. It has previously been shown that women tend to catastrophize pain more than men. However, how the sex of the experimenter affects this was not previously known.
Women prefer to be patient
Scientists from Murdoch University in Western Australia decided to clarify whether gender stereotypes are true. They wanted to avoid the flaws that plagued much of the previous research. To do this, they expanded the arsenal of tools for inflicting pain and diversified its intensity.
The study involved 30 men and 30 women. They were required to rate the severity of pain on a special scale when they were experimented with using temperature, pressure, pin pricks, and high-frequency electrical stimulation.
As in previous studies, women were stronger than men at catastrophic pain. But female experimenters reported less intense pain than female experimenters with the same tests.
Scientists suggest that women increasingly do not want to appear the weaker sex, they go against the prevailing stereotypes. Because of this, catastrophizing pain may have less of an impact on pain perception.
The authors point out that when doctors assess pain in men and women, they often make mistakes due to gender stereotypes. Pain studies such as this are being conducted to help professionals better understand how women talk about chronic pain in a variety of conditions.