Gender role affects experimental pain responses: a systematic review with meta-analysis

Eur J Pain. 2012 Oct;16(9):1211-23. doi: 10.1002/j.1532-2149.2012.00121.x. Epub 2012 Mar 20.


Gender role refers to the culturally and socially constructed meanings that describe how women and men should behave in certain situations according to feminine and masculine roles learned throughout life. The aim of this meta-analysis was to evaluate the relationship between gender role and experimental pain responses in healthy human participants. We searched computerized databases for studies published between January 1950 and May 2011 that had measured gender role in healthy human adults and pain response to noxious stimuli. Studies were entered into a meta-analysis if they calculated a correlation coefficient (r) for gender role and experimental pain. Searches yielded 4465 'hits' and 13 studies were eligible for review. Sample sizes were 67-235 participants and the proportion of female participants was 45-67%. Eight types of gender role instrument were used. Meta-analysis of six studies (406 men and 539 women) found a significant positive correlation between masculine and feminine personality traits and pain threshold and tolerance, with a small effect size (r = 0.17, p = 0.01). Meta-analysis of four studies (263 men and 297 women) found a significant negative correlation between gender stereotypes specific to pain and pain threshold and tolerance, with a moderate effect size (r = -0.41, p < 0.001). In conclusion, individuals who considered themselves more masculine and less sensitive to pain than the typical man showed higher pain thresholds and tolerances. Gender stereotypes specific to pain scales showed stronger associations with sex differences in pain sensitivity response than masculine and feminine personality trait scales.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Culture*
  • Female
  • Femininity
  • Gender Identity*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Masculinity
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pain Threshold
  • Personality
  • Sex Factors
  • Stereotyping*