Sex-Specific Effects of Gender Identification on Pain Study Recruitment

Published:October 25, 2017DOI:


      • We assessed gender identification in men and women, then asked them to participate in a pain study.
      • Men individuals who agreed to participate were rated higher in masculine gender identification.
      • Aggressive and competitive men were most likely to participate.


      Epidemiological, clinical, and laboratory studies show sex differences in pain responses, with women more sensitive to nociceptive stimulation and more vulnerable to long-term pain conditions than men. Because of evidence that men are culturally reinforced for the ability to endure (or under-report) pain, some of these findings might be explained by sociocultural beliefs about gender-appropriate behavior. One potential manifestation of these effects might be differential participation in pain studies, with men adhering to stereotypical masculine roles viewing participation as a way to demonstrate their masculinity. To test this possibility, we assessed gender identification in 137 healthy participants. At the end of the assessment, they were asked if they would like to participate in other research studies. Interested participants were then asked to participate in a study involving administration of pain-evoking stimulation. We compared individuals who agreed to participate in the pain study with those who declined. We observed a significant Sex × Participation interaction in masculine gender identification, such that men (but not women) who agreed to participate identified significantly more with masculine gender. Among masculine gender traits examined, we found that high levels of aggression and competitiveness were the strongest predictors of pain study participation. Our results suggest that men in pain studies might have higher levels of masculine gender identification than the wider male population. Taken together with previous findings of lower levels of pain sensitivity (or reporting) in masculine-identifying male participants, these results suggest an explanation for some of the sex-related differences observed in pain responses.


      To examine whether sex and gender affect willingness to participate in pain studies, we assessed gender identification in men and women, then attempted to recruit them to participate in a pain study. Men who agree to participate in pain studies are significantly higher in masculine gender identification than men who decline to participate or women who agree to participate. Men who agreed to participate were rated particularly high in aggressiveness and competitiveness.

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