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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 February, 2004, 11:21 GMT
Pain from a woman will hurt less
Woman in pain
Men and women reported similar levels of pain
Pain hurts less when it is inflicted by a woman, researchers have found.

Students were asked to put their fingers in a clamp which was tightened until the pain was unbearable.

Researchers from the University of Westminster found that people allowed women to turn the clamp much further than men.

Dr David Williams, who led the research said the study suggested people do not expect women to inflict as much pain.

Individuals can be 'primed' for pain by qualities of their environment
Dr David Williams
He said: "This effect is likely to be a result of what participants subconsciously expect, based on socially acquired gender stereotypes - people feel that they are less likely to experience intense pain from a stimulus given by a woman rather than a man.

"This effect is less likely to be down to males trying to appear macho in front of a female - a conscious and deliberate act - as the result applied to both genders."

He said the fact there were no differences in how men and women responded to the test suggested women do not actually handle pain better.

Treatment implications

Dr Williams said people's sensitivity to pain was also shown to depend on their surroundings.

In the study, people appeared to suffer more if there was a poster on the wall which might trigger negative feelings, such as a chart of wounds or a poster calling for blood donors.

Dr Williams, who carried out the research for his PhD, said: "People subconsciously evaluate their environment.

"This evaluation can result in identical stimuli being perceived as more or less painful for the same participant or, in some cases, an innocuous stimulus being perceived as painful or a relatively intense stimulus perceived as innocuous."

He said the finding could have implications for how patients are given potentially painful treatments.

"Individuals can be 'primed' for pain by qualities of their environment and, as a result, may suffer unnecessarily during acutely painful clinical procedures.

"Awareness of these principles may be useful in developing methods of reducing suffering in those situations."

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