Tough guys or sensitive guys? Disentangling the role of examiner sex on patient pain reports. Academic Article uri icon


  • Experimental and clinical pain studies are conflicting regarding whether individuals report heightened or dampened pain sensitivity in the presence of other men or women.In the present preliminary study, two small medical record reviews of patients admitted for emergency care were conducted to examine the possibility that patients may report differential pain intensity to male and female health care examiners. The study also sought to determine whether these effects are moderated by and, thus, only detectable by examining patients at different pain (debilitation) levels.Pain intensity scores were extracted from two medical record reviews of patients admitted for emergency care (n=64 and n=135, respectively). Pain intensity was measured using an 11-point numerical scale during standard triage assessments and the sex of the examiner was recorded.Mean pain scores reported to male and female emergency staff did not differ in either set of medical records. However, when patients were split between low and high pain levels, male patients reported higher pain scores to male practitioners when experiencing relatively low pain levels, and both male and female patients reported higher pain scores to female practitioners when experiencing relatively high pain levels.The statistical magnitudes of these effects were large, suggesting that this phenomenon may be a pervasive feature in clinical settings and experimental pain studies.These preliminary findings warrant larger-scale investigations of social contextual influences on patient pain reports, which are necessary for creating more standardized protocols for reliably assessing and treating patient pain experiences.

publication date

  • January 1, 2014