Sex differences in the perception of noxious experimental stimuli: a meta-analysis

Pain. 1998 Feb;74(2-3):181-7. doi: 10.1016/s0304-3959(97)00199-1.


Fillingim and Maixner (Fillingim, R.B. and Maixner, W., Pain Forum, 4(4) (1995) 209-221) recently reviewed the body of literature examining possible sex differences in responses to experimentally induced noxious stimulation. Using a 'box score' methodology, they concluded the literature supports sex differences in response to noxious stimuli, with females displaying greater sensitivity. However, Berkley (Berkley, K.J., Pain Forum, 4(4) (1995) 225-227) suggested the failure of a number of studies to reach statistical significance suggests the effect may be small and of little practical significance. This study used meta-analytic methodology to provide quantitative evidence to address the question of the magnitude of these sex differences in response to experimentally induced pain. We found the effect size to range from large to moderate, depending on whether threshold or tolerance were measured and which method of stimulus administration was used. The values for pressure pain and electrical stimulation, for both threshold and tolerance measures, were the largest. For studies employing a threshold measure, the effect for thermal pain was smaller and more variable. The failures to reject the null hypothesis in a number of these studies appear to have been a function of lack of power from an insufficient number of subjects. Given the estimated effect size of 0.55 threshold or 0.57 for tolerance, 41 subjects per group are necessary to provide adequate power (0.70) to test for this difference. Of the 34 studies reviewed by Fillingim and Maixner, only seven were conducted with groups of this magnitude. The results of this study compels to caution authors to obtain adequate sample sizes and hope that this meta-analytic review can aid in the determination of sample size for future studies.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Noxae
  • Pain Threshold*
  • Sex Characteristics*


  • Noxae