Gender role expectations of pain: relationship to sex differences in pain

J Pain. 2001 Oct;2(5):251-7. doi: 10.1054/jpai.2001.24551.


Empirical research supports the existence of sex differences in pain; yet these differences are poorly understood. Although biological mechanisms have been posited to explain variability, results of pain modeling manipulations suggest social learning may be a stronger influence on pain response. In this report we use the term sex to refer to the biological category of male or female. We use the term gender to refer to the socially acquired aspects of being male or female sometimes referred to as femininity and masculinity. This study investigated a new measure, the Gender Role Expectations of Pain questionnaire (GREP), which was designed to measure sex-related stereotypic attributions of pain sensitivity, endurance, and willingness to report pain. Subjects were 156 male and 235 female undergraduates at a southeastern university. Psychometric investigation of the questionnaire revealed a 5-factor solution that closely mirrored the theoretical construction of the items. Test-retest reliability was also shown for individual items on a separate sample of 28 subjects. Results supported hypotheses about gender role: both men and women rated men as less willing to report pain than women (F(1,389) = 336, P <.001); both men and women rated women more sensitive (F(1,389) = 9.5, P <.05) and less enduring of pain (F(1,389) = 65.7, P <.001) than men; and men rated their own endurance as higher than the typical man (F(1,389) = 65.7, P <.001). Sex accounted for 46% of the variance in willingness to report pain. Results suggest that the GREP distinguished between the socially learned reactions to pain for men and women. It is recommended that the influence of gender-related expectations for pain be assessed in all studies investigating human sex differences in pain.