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Pain. 2007 May;129(1-2):122-9. Epub 2006 Dec 6.

Role of gender norms and group identification on hypothetical and experimental pain tolerance.

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Department of Psychology, St. Mary's University, San Antonio, TX 78228, USA.


Previous research indicates that men typically tolerate more pain in experimental settings than women. One likely explanation for these group differences in pain tolerance is conformity to traditional, gender group social norms (i.e., the ideal man is masculine and tolerates more pain; the ideal woman is feminine and tolerates less pain). According to self-categorization theory, norms guide behavior to the degree that group members adopt the group identity. Therefore, high-identifying men are expected to conform to gender norms and tolerate more pain than high-identifying women who conform to different gender norms as a guide for their behavior. We conducted two studies to investigate whether gender group identification moderates individuals' conformity to pain tolerance and reporting norms. In the first study, participants indicated their gender identification and expected tolerance of a hypothetical painful stimulus. As anticipated, high-identifying men reported significantly greater pain tolerance than high-identifying women. No differences existed between low-identifying men and women. To determine if self-reported pain tolerance in a role-playing scenario corresponds to actual pain tolerance in an experimental setting, the second study examined pain tolerance to a noxious stimulus induced by electrical stimulation of the index finger. The experimental outcome revealed that high-identifying men tolerated more painful stimulation than high-identifying women. Further, high-identifying men tolerated more pain than low-identifying men. These results highlight the influence of social norms on behavior and suggest the need to further explore the role of norms in pain reporting behaviors.

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