The pain threshold debate settled

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London - It is a debate that can prove rather agonising for everyone involved.

Men have long claimed that their pain threshold is higher than women’s, while women cite childbirth as proof the opposite is true.

Now, however, scientists claim to have found the answer once and for all. It seems men can tolerate more pain than women and are less likely to let on that they are suffering because they want to appear macho.

According to researchers from Leeds Metropolitan University, gender stereotypes mean men tend to act stoically when they are hurt, whereas women show more sensitivity.

Pain scientist Dr Osama Tashani, who recruited 200 British and Libyan volunteers for the study, said: “Traditionally, high levels of stoicism are associated with men and high levels of sensitivity are associated with women.”

Dr Tashani monitored sensitivity, endurance and willingness to report pain, and found that men had higher pain thresholds and reported less pain intensity than women, irrespective of their nationality.

The British volunteers could not endure as much pain as Libyan participants but were more willing to report it.

However, reactions based on gender stereotypes were more pronounced in Libya than the UK, suggesting gender and culture both play a part in how we cope with discomfort.

Those who took part in the two-year study, published in the European Journal of Pain, were put through two pain-inducing procedures. In one, they were jabbed in the hand with a 1cm-wide blunt tip, while in the other, they had to hold their hand above their head while a cuff was applied to restrict blood flow.

However, according to another study, making them sit a maths test could have been just as effective. Researchers at the University of Chicago have found that “maths anxiety” – where someone is scared of maths regardless of their ability – can cause physical pain.

The study discovered that those who experience the highest levels of anxiety at the mere anticipation of a maths test also show increased activity in regions of the brain linked with pain sensation. And the higher the anxiety, the higher the neural activity detected, journal PLOS One reported. - Daily Mail

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