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J Pain. 2001 Feb;2(1):57-64.

Noise stress and human pain thresholds: divergent effects in men and women.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Texas A & M University, College Station, 77843, USA.


Considerable animal research suggests that exposure to noxious and nonnoxious fear-inducing stimuli can produce hypoalgesia. Although this effect is thought to generalize across species, only a few studies have examined the pain modulatory effects of nonnoxious fear-eliciting stimuli in humans. The present study examined whether exposure to a series of loud noise bursts would produce a fear-related hypoalgesia in male and female human subjects. Both subjective and physiologic measures (skin conductance level, heart rate) indicated that noise exposure resulted in fear, sympathetic arousal, and decreased pain reactivity in women (n = 20). In contrast, men (n = 20) did not experience fear or physiologic arousal, but reacted with surprise and increased pain reactivity. These findings provide additional evidence that hypoalgesia is mediated by fear and physiologic arousal. Although future studies should directly manipulate surprise, it appears that surprise without fear and physiologic arousal might enhance pain processing.

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