Birds of the same feather? Study finds that you hang out with people who have the same pain tolerance as you

You have a lot of things that are similar to your friends – with hobbies and interests being some of them. However, according to a recent study in the Scandinavian Journal of Pain, you may also have the same pain tolerance levels, provided that you and your friends are males. The study, which included an editorial comment by Dr. Jeffrey Mogil of McGill University, investigated the link between pain tolerance and friendship ties.

Pain tolerance and friendships

The study, conducted in Tromsø, Norway, involved more than 1,000 adolescents in the first year of upper secondary school. The participants were tested on pain tolerance and data from these tests were compared with their social relationships.

The adolescents who took the test identified at least five of their friends who belonged to the social network of the group. Participants were then given a test for pain tolerance within the group, which involved trying to see how long they can endure pain when their hand is immersed in cold circulating water with a temperature of three degrees C.

Data from the study revealed that there was a strong link between pain tolerance and friendships, which meant friends usually had similar pain tolerance levels. Further investigation of the data showed that the “friendship effect” was only observed in male participants, and only among male-male friendships.

The authors of the study presented two possible explanations for the friendship-pain tolerance link. The first is that friends will often have a similar lifestyle that can influence pain sensitivity. This may cause a similar pain tolerance levels in a group of friends.

This possibility was tested by “statistically controlling for physical activity and smoking,” two established lifestyle factors that can influence pain. But the results of the test were the same, which implied that similar lifestyle in a group of friends isn’t the reason for the similarity in pain tolerance.

The second hypothesis for this mechanism of social transmission is peer pressure. The adolescent participants were tested in succession, and the researchers posit that they could have bragged to their peers about their ability to endure the maximum testing time, which was 105 seconds.

If this is true, then the participants who were tested after conversing with their peers would have a higher pain tolerance. While this effect was observed in some individuals, it only accounted for some and not all, of the similarity in a group of friends. (Related: Scientists discover that having lots of friends is a better painkiller than morphine… but the wrong friends can be TOXIC!)

This study is the first of its kind to utilize social network analysis when measuring pain tolerance. The results also helped researchers understand how social factors can influence pain.

If there is a concrete social influence effect on pain tolerance, this implies that prevention programs that target social groups can be more effective compared to those that focus on individual patients alone.

Fast facts on pain tolerance

Pain tolerance refers to the maximum amount of pain an individual can endure.

  • When a person feels pain, an event/injury will prompt the nerves to send a signal to the brain. The brain will then receive the “message,” which is interpreted as the sign of pain.
  • When you reach your maximum pain tolerance, you will often take measures to either “remove the cause of pain or decrease the pain sensations.”
  • Pain is subjective, and individuals may experience pain in different ways.
  • Pain is made up of different dimensions like behavioral, emotional, and sensory components.
  • While most people are reluctant to experience pain, it can often signify an underlying illness or injury that requires medical attention.

Read other articles about pain tolerance levels and its link to your friendships at

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