Pain research indicates stereotypes influence reactions
The study which was led by pain scientist Dr Osama Tashani and has this month been published in the European Journal of Pain, recruited more than 200 British and Libyan student volunteers who underwent experimental pain tests.
Dr Tashani, a Research Fellow at Leeds Met, commented: "Global research indicates a growing body of evidence that ethnicity influences response to experimentally induced pain. Gender also has an impact to this with women displaying greater sensitivity.
"Traditionally high levels of stoicism are associated with men and high levels of sensitivity associated with women. Some ethnic groups are described as more stoic, while others are viewed as more free in expressing their pain behaviour."
Dr Tashani, who undertook the research with Professor Mark Johnson and Leeds Met PhD student Oras Alabas, said the four factors taken into account in the study were individual sensitivity and endurance, stereotypical endurance, individual willingness to report pain and stereotypical sensitivity.
Ms Alabas, conducted the lab-based tests at Al-tahadi University in Libya and at Leeds Metropolitan over a two-year period. Two types of experimental-pain procedures were carried out on all student volunteers - a pressure pain test, which saw 1cm diameter blunt tip pressed onto participants' hands and an ischemic pain test which involved a blood pressure cuff being applied below the elbow of the students' non-dominant arm. The arm was then raised above their head for one minute while the cuff was inflated, limiting blood flow.
The tests suggested that the judgement of Libyan men and women about masculine and feminine attitudes towards gender role were more conservative than British. Libyan women also showed a more feminine role than white British women, however Libyan women had lower ratings than British women for willingness to report pain.
Men had higher pressure pain thresholds and lower pain intensity ratings than women, irrespective of nationality.
Significant effects for sex and ethnicity for pressure pain threshold were also detected. Men had higher thresholds than women and Libyan participants had higher than white British participants.
With the ischemic pain test Libyan participants showed higher pain intensity than British. Men were found to score lower than women for pain sensitivity and higher scores for pain endurance, while it was found that the typical man would have higher scores for pain endurance and lower scores for willingness to report pain.
In terms of ethnicity, Libyan participants had lower scores for pain sensitivity and willingness to report, but higher scores for pain endurance relative to British participants.
"We did not detect differences in pain unpleasantness," added Dr Tashani. "There have been no previous studies that have compared pressure pain threshold between white British individuals and other ethno-cultural groups. "We found that Libyans had higher pressure pain thresholds and pain intensity and unpleasantness ratings during the test. However, our failure to detect interactions between sex and ethnicity suggests that sex differences in pain sensitivity responses were not affected by ethnicity.
Stereotypical gendered behaviours emerged in the response to experimentally induced pressure and ischemic pain between Libyans and white British students and between men and women."
The research found that of the volunteers, men considered themselves less sensitive, more tolerant to pain and less willing to report pain than a typical woman. Likewise, women rated themselves as more sensitive and less tolerant to pain and more willing to report pain than a typical man.
Libyans expressed stronger stereotypical views than their white British counterparts. They also showed stronger masculine and feminine traits in their individual gender role expectations of pain captured by participants rating their own response to pain compared with a typical man and a typical woman.