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Why can some people handle more pain than others? © iStock

Why can some people handle more pain than others?

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There's an important difference between your pain tolerance and pain threshold.

Asked by: Mark Reiderman, Belgium

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Your ability to withstand high levels of pain (pain tolerance) is quite different from the degree of physical stimulus required to generate the sensation of pain (pain threshold). Your pain threshold can be modified by drugs and other medical interventions, but no amount of mental preparation will reduce your threshold to pain.

Pain tolerance on the other hand is greatly affected by your mental state. Studies have shown that men have higher pain tolerance than women and that their tolerance is higher if they are in company than if they are alone. This might be to do with a desire to appear strong or invulnerable, which may have an evolutionary advantage.

Counterintuitively, regular exposure to pain actually reduces pain tolerance because the nerve endings become sensitised and generate more pain signals for a given degree of stimulus. So the bravest men are the ones who haven't been hurt before.

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Authors

luis villazon
Luis VillazonQ&A expert

Luis trained as a zoologist, but now works as a science and technology educator. In his spare time he builds 3D-printed robots, in the hope that he will be spared when the revolution inevitably comes.

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