Macho Men Are Ruining Science by Volunteering for Pain Studies to Show How Strong They Are

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Hypermasculine “macho men” may be more likely to underreport pain. “How much does it hurt?” is not always a black-and-white question, and it seems men are more likely to bend the truth. PAU BARRENA/AFP/Getty Images

Updated | Everything we think we know about pain endurance may be wrong, and we have "macho" men to blame, suggests a new study published online in the Journal of Pain.

It seems that gender roles have even managed to mess up our scientific understanding of pain thresholds. According to the study, hypermasculine men with extremely competitive and aggressive personality traits are more likely to sign up to take part in scientific research on pain. As a result, these men may bend the truth on reporting just how much pain they actually feel, diminishing their true amount of agony in an effort to appear more masculine.

If the scientist conducting the research is a woman, the results could be even more skewed, as men may be further inclined to lie and mislead about the amount of pain they actually experience in order to impress the female scientist, the researchers say.

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"Our findings raise the possibility that many men are motivated to show that they can endure pain, suggesting that it might be the women, rather than the men that are reporting their pain accurately," lead study author Dr. Tim Salomons, a psychologist at the University of Reading, in the United Kingdom, told Newsweek.

For the study, the team had 137 student volunteers answer a questionnaire consisting of questions about their biological sex and their gender identification, along with their personal likeliness to take part in a pain study. Results showed a "significant" correlation between volunteers' willingness to participate in pain studies and the level of their masculine gender identification.

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Anecdotal stories of childbirth and "man flu" suggest that women have higher pain tolerance than men and some research has found that postmenopausal women have lower estrogen levels, which can decrease pain sensitivity. But scientific research on the topic is conflicted. And Salomons argues that most scientific evidence suggests that men have higher pain tolerance.

There are biological explanations for differences between gender pain tolerances, Salomons said in an email to Newsweek, including "genetic differences, sex hormones and functioning of the body's natural opiate systems."

Understanding how patients feel pain is important for doctors so that they can best treat their ailments. In addition, according to Salomons, clinicians are more likely to not believe women when they report their pain and as a result may undermedicate them. In truth though, it may be men who are less truthful in reporting pain.

For now, it's safe to say that the jury is still out on which gender can tolerate the most pain, but, then again, it's not a contest. Lying about how much discomfort you actually feel is likely not going to benefit anyone.

Correction: An earlier version of this story suggested that Dr. Tim Salomons supports the belief that women can endure more pain than men. But Salomons argues that there is more scientific research suggesting that men can tolerate more pain.