Previous research has consistently shown moderate to large differences between pain reports of men and women undergoing experimental pain testing. These differences have been shown for a variety of types of stimulation. However, only recently have sex differences been demonstrated for temporal summation of second pain. This study examined sex differences in response to temporal summation of second pain elicited by thermal stimulation of the skin. The relative influences of state anxiety and gender role expectations on temporal summation were investigated. Asymptomatic undergraduates (37 women and 30 men) underwent thermal testing of the thenar surface of the hand in a temporal summation protocol. Our results replicated those of Fillingim et al indicating that women showed increased temporal summation compared to men. We extended those findings to demonstrate that temporal summation is influenced by anxiety and gender role stereotypes about pain responding. When anxiety and gender role stereotypes are taken into account, sex is no longer a significant predictor of temporal summation. These findings highlight the contribution of social learning factors in the differences between sexes' pain perception.
Perspective: Results of this study demonstrate that psychosocial variables influence pain mechanisms. Temporal summation was related to gender role expectations of pain and anxiety. These variables explain a significant portion of the differences between men and women's pain processing, and may be related to differences in clinical presentation.