Avoidance versus focused attention and the perception of pain: differential effects for men and women

Pain. 2000 Mar;85(1-2):225-30. doi: 10.1016/s0304-3959(99)00270-5.


The aim of the current investigation was to compare the effects of two different attentional strategies (focused vs. avoidance) on how males and females respond to experimentally induced pain. One hundred healthy adults were instructed to either attend towards or away from cold pressor pain. Measures of pain tolerance, pain threshold and recovery were taken, as were self-report measures of sensory and affective pain experiences. As expected, gender was found to moderate tolerance to pain: males were found to be more tolerant to cold pressor pain than females. With respect to the self-report measures, males reported less sensory pain when they attended toward the pain than when they avoided it. However, a similar effect was not found in women, suggesting that attentional focusing may only be a useful strategy for males. These results are discussed in light of previous research.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological / physiology
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Cold Temperature
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pain Threshold / physiology
  • Pressure
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Surveys and Questionnaires