Laboratory personnel gender and cold pressor apparatus affect subjective pain reports. Academic Article uri icon


  • There is no standardized method for cold pressor pain tasks across experiments. Temperature, apparatus and aspects of experimenters vary widely among studies. It is well known that experimental pain tolerance is influenced by setting as well as the sex of the experimenter. It is not known whether other contextual factors influence experimental pain reporting.The present two-part experiment examines whether minimizing and standardizing interactions with laboratory personnel (eg, limiting interaction with participants to consenting and questions and not during the actual pain task) eliminates the influence of examiner characteristics on subjective pain reports and whether using different cold pain apparatus (cooler versus machine) influences reports.The present experiment manipulated the gender of the experimenter (male, female and transgender) and the type of cold pressor task (CPT) apparatus (ice cooler versus refrigerated bath circulator). Participants conducted the CPT at one of two pain levels (5°C or 16°C) without an experimenter present.Men and women showed lower pain sensitivity when they were processed by biological male personnel than by biological female personnel before the CPT. Women who interacted with a transgendered researcher likewise reported higher pain sensitivity than women processed by biological male or female researchers. The type of CPT apparatus, despite operating at equivalent temperatures, also influenced subjective pain reports.The findings show that even minimal interactions with laboratory personnel who differ in gender, and differences in laboratory materials impact the reliable measurement of pain.More standardized protocols for measuring pain across varying research and clinical settings should be developed.

publication date

  • January 1, 2014