Biological sex and social setting affects pain intensity and observational coding of other people’s pain behaviors

Department of Psychology, University of New Mexico, 1 University of New Mexico, MSC03 2220, Albuquerque, NM 87131-1161, USA.
Pain (Impact Factor: 5.21). 06/2011; 152(9):2125-30. DOI: 10.1016/j.pain.2011.05.019
Source: PubMed


This experiment examines the impact of biological sex and audience composition on laboratory-induced ischemic pain intensity and observational coding of other people's pain behaviors. Situational context was manipulated by varying the sex and number of audience stimuli in the laboratory setting during the pain task and during observational evaluations of other people's pain suffering. The analyses revealed sex differences in felt pain intensity and observable pain behaviors, with male subjects reporting lower pain intensity and evidencing fewer pain behaviors than female subjects on average. Follow-up analyses revealed that, after controlling for social anxiety, audience composition was linked to felt pain intensity, and this relation was moderated by participant sex and audience sex, such that only male subjects showed decreased pain intensity with increasing number of female audience members. Sex differences were also found in the rating of other people's pain behaviors, with male observers rating the pain of others lower than female observers. Composition of the audience influenced observers' pain ratings such that the presence of more male subjects in the audience correlated with lower observer ratings, whereas the presence of more female subjects correlated with higher observer ratings. This is the first study to show that the sex and the composition of the social context in which pain is experienced affects the intensity of felt pain and the evaluation of other people's pain suffering. Implications of the findings for measuring and interpreting pain suffering in male and female patients by male and female treatment providers in health care settings are discussed.

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    • "It is generally accepted that gonadal sex hormones contribute to greater clinical and experimental pain experiences in women as compared to men [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]. Research thus far has demonstrated mixed findings on how the stage of menstrual cycle (and accompanying changes in steroids such as estradiol and progesterone) covaries with experimental pain sensitivity (e.g., [6] [7] [8]). "
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    ABSTRACT: Background. Separate lines of research have shown that menstrual cycling and contextual factors such as the gender of research personnel influence experimental pain reporting. Objectives. This study examines how brief, procedural interactions with female and male experimenters can affect experimentally reported pain (cold pressor task, CPT) across the menstrual cycle. Methods. Based on the menstrual calendars 94 naturally cycling women and 38 women using hormonal contraceptives ( ) were assigned to low and high fertility groups. This assignment was based on estimates of their probability of conception given their current cycle day. Experimenters (12 males, 7 females) engaged in minimal procedural interactions with participants before the CPT was performed in solitude. Results. Naturally cycling women in the high fertility group showed significantly higher pain tolerance (81 sec, ) following interactions with a male but not a female experimenter. Differences were not found for women in the low fertility or contraceptive groups. Discussion. The findings illustrate that menstrual functioning moderates the effect that experimenter gender has on pain reporting in women. Conclusion. These findings have implications for standardizing pain measurement protocols and understanding how basic biopsychosocial mechanisms (e.g., person-perception systems) can modulate pain experiences.
    International Journal of Endocrinology 04/2015; 2015:1-8. DOI:10.1155/2015/520719 · 1.95 Impact Factor
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    • "The cold pressor task was then carried out by the participant without an experimenter present, though these actions were monitored by an experimenter in the next room (by video and intercom) to ensure adherence to the cold pressor methods. This enabled us to collect CPT data without the physical presence of investigators, which has been shown to influence experimental pain sensitivity [24], [32], [70]. Following the CPT, individuals were debriefed. "
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    ABSTRACT: We explored the social-signaling hypothesis that variability in exogenous pain sensitivities across the menstrual cycle is moderated by women's current romantic relationship status and hence the availability of a solicitous social partner for expressing pain behaviors in regular, isochronal ways. In two studies, we used the menstrual calendars of healthy women to provide a detailed approximation of the women's probability of conception based on their current cycle-day, along with relationship status, and cold pressor pain and ischemic pain sensitivities, respectively. In the first study (n = 135; 18-46 yrs., Mage = 23 yrs., 50% natural cycling), we found that naturally-cycling, pair-bonded women showed a positive correlation between the probability of conception and ischemic pain intensity (r = .45), associations not found for single women or hormonal contraceptive-users. A second study (n = 107; 19-29 yrs., Mage = 20 yrs., 56% natural cycling) showed a similar association between greater conception risk and higher cold-pressor pain intensity in naturally-cycling, pair-bonded women only (r = .63). The findings show that variability in exogenous pain sensitivities across different fertility phases of the menstrual cycle is contingent on basic elements of women's social environment and inversely correspond to variability in naturally occurring, perimenstrual symptoms. These findings have wide-ranging implications for: a) standardizing pain measurement protocols; b) understanding basic biopsychosocial pain-related processes; c) addressing clinical pain experiences in women; and d) understanding how pain influences, and is influenced by, social relationships.
    PLoS ONE 03/2014; 9(3):e91993. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0091993 · 3.23 Impact Factor
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    • "It is plausible that stronger social support is associated with less clinical pain and improved patient outcomes [9-12], but some research has shown inconclusive associations [13] or the inverse finding that stronger social support is associated with increased clinical pain [14-16]. Experimental studies have also produced mixed results concerning social contextual influences on pain perception [7,17-19]. "
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    ABSTRACT: This is the first study to examine how both structural and functional components of individuals' social networks may moderate the association between biological sex and experimental pain sensitivity. One hundred and fifty-two healthy adults (mean age = 22yrs., 53% males) were measured for cold pressor task (CPT) pain sensitivity (i.e., intensity ratings) and core aspects of social networks (e.g., proportion of friends vs. family, affection, affirmation, and aid). Results showed consistent sex differences in how social network structures and intimate relationship functioning modulated pain sensitivity. Females showed higher pain sensitivity when their social networks consisted of a higher proportion of intimate types of relationship partners (e.g., kin vs. non kin), when they had known their network partners for a longer period of time, and when they reported higher levels of logistical support from their significant other (e.g., romantic partner). Conversely, males showed distinct patterns in the opposite direction, including an association between higher levels of logistical support from one's significant other and lower CPT pain intensity. These findings show for the first time that the direction of sex differences in exogenous pain sensitivity is likely dependent on fundamental components of the individual's social environment. The utility of a social-signaling perspective of pain behaviors for examining, comparing, and interpreting individual and group differences in experimental and clinical pain reports is discussed.
    PLoS ONE 11/2013; 8(11):e78663. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0078663 · 3.23 Impact Factor
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