"Our research has shown that whilst the sensory-focused strategies used by men helped increase their pain threshold and tolerance of pain, it was unlikely to have any benefit for women," said Dr Keogh.
"Women who concentrate on the emotional aspects of their pain may actually experience more pain as a result, possibly because the emotions associated with pain are negative."
To carry out this research, scientists asked volunteers to place their non-dominant arm in a warm water bath (37 degrees centigrade) for two minutes before transferring the hand into an ice water bath maintained at a temperature of 1 - 2 degrees centigrade.
The cold pressor tank allows researchers to monitor the pain threshold (the point at which volunteers first notice the pain) and pain tolerance (the point at which volunteers can no longer stand the pain). An upper time limit of two minutes is used in these kinds of studies.
Other research by the Pain Management Unit has looked at the relationship between gender differences in anxiety sensitivity and pain. Anxiety sensitivity is the tendency to be fearful of anxiety-related sensations (e.g., rapidly beating heat), and seems to be important in the experience of pain sensations. In a study of 150 patients referred to a hospital clinic with chest pain, researchers discovered that the factors that predicted pain in men and women were different.
Researchers believe that it is the fear of anxiety-related sensations and an increased tendency to negatively interpret such sensations, both of which are more predominant in women than men that influences women's experiences of pain.
"Chest pain is associated with coronary heart disease, angina and heart attacks, so it is understandable that chest pain is a cause of great anxiety for patients and that anxiety has an important role in the experience of chest pain," said Dr Keogh.
Source:University of Bath