Centre for Pain Research

The role that social relationships and sex have on reporting pain

Rhiannon Edwards, PhD Research Student

Pain is present in everyday life but we are not skilled at identifying pain in others. Pain is highly subjective and more than a sensory experience, so is considered within a biopsychosocial model. Recent research has focused on the role of social support and how it can influence an individual’s pain experience. For example, the presence of an audience can influence how pain is reported; as audience size increases, males are more likely to supress their pain. Additionally, research has suggested that the presence of another person alters how pain is reported. However, sex differences and interpersonal relationships (e.g., whether the person experiencing pain and the other person present know each other, class themselves as friends, or whether they are in a romantic relationship) has not been extensively researched.

My thesis investigates the role that social relationships and sex have on reporting pain. First, a series of experimental studies investigate the importance of the dyadic relationship on the report of pain by comparing strangers, friends and romantic partners. We manipulated the sex of the dyadic relationships in these studies. Second, using mixed-methods, I will explore the differences found in the first part of my PhD. In particular, I will focus on why dyadic relationships influence the report of pain, and why there are sex differences present. Overall, my thesis will consider the importance of the social environment and the relationship between individuals within the context of pain.