Ibuprofen relieves women's hurt feelings, not men's

August 1, 2014 by Laura Byerley
Credit: George Hodan/Public Domain

(Medical Xpress)—For years, researchers have known that physical pain relievers such as ibuprofen can also help ease emotional pain, but new research suggests that ibuprofen has contrasting effects on men and women: Men who take the drug report harsher feelings of rejection, and women report feeling better.

The research by Professor Anita L. Vangelisti at The University of Texas at Austin's Moody College of Communication, published in the June 2014 edition of Personal Relationships, could reveal ways men and can help each other deal with hurt feelings.

People have long been conditioned to believe that hurt feelings and physical injury are separate phenomena. Recent research finds that both kinds of pain activate similar regions of the brain—and that differences in sex reveal opposing ways to mitigate the sting of social pain through over-the-counter .

Vangelisti dug deeper into the proven ability of physical pain relievers to alleviate in both sexes. According to her study, "Reducing social pain: Sex differences in the impact of physical pain relievers," women who took ibuprofen had less intense hurt feelings when they were excluded from a game and when they relived a painful experience than their male counterparts, who felt more hurt in both situations.

"Hurt feelings are a part of any close relationship, so learning how to think and talk about the social pain we experience in our relationships is important," said Vangelisti. "Understanding differences in the way women and men deal with their hurt feelings could go a long way toward helping couples cope with these feelings in their romantic and marital relationships."

The study was co-authored by James W. Pennebaker, chair and professor in the Department of Psychology at The University of Texas at Austin; Nicholas Brody, assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Puget Sound; and Trey D. Guinn, assistant professor in the Department of Communication Arts at the University of the Incarnate Word.

The research was based on responses from 138 university students—62 men and 76 women. After completing initial screenings and questionnaires, half of the participants took 400 mg of ibuprofen and the other half received a placebo.

In one part of the experiment, individuals engaged in "Cyberball," a virtual ball-tossing game on computers, in which they were socially excluded and then asked to rate their emotions.

During the other portion of the experiment, participants wrote a detailed description of a situation in which they experienced betrayal in a close relationship and of a situation in which they experienced physical pain. Afterwards, participants were asked to rate their emotions.

"It's possible that taking physical pain relievers provides men with more cognitive resources to express the pain they feel," said Vangelisti. "There's some evidence that, for men, the part of the brain that enables them to regulate their emotions is linked to the part of the brain that processes physical and social pain. If that's the case, taking a reliever may affect men's ability to hide or suppress their social pain."

Areas for further study include addressing the way think about and express feelings and measuring the degree to which physical and are linked.

Vangelisti said the findings of her study may expose differences in the ways women and might best help each other deal with their hurt feelings.

"If our findings hold up for younger people, it also could help us address differences in the way children and adolescents think about and respond to socially painful situations like bullying," said Vangelisti.

Explore further: Brain stimulation may buffer feelings of social pain

More information: VANGELISTI, A. L., PENNEBAKER, J. W., BRODY, N. and GUINN, T. D. (2014), "Reducing social pain: Sex differences in the impact of physical pain relievers." Personal Relationships, 21: 349–363. DOI: 10.1111/pere.12036

Related Stories

Brain stimulation may buffer feelings of social pain

December 4, 2012
Accumulating evidence suggests that certain brain areas involved in processing physical pain may also underlie feelings of social pain. But can altering brain activity in these areas actually change how people experience ...

Broken hearts really hurt

February 22, 2012
"Broken-hearted" isn't just a metaphor -- social pain and physical pain have a lot in common, according to Naomi Eisenberger of the University of Califiornia-Los Angeles, the author of a new paper published in Current Directions ...

Women's chronic pain is more complex, more severe

October 24, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—New research from the University of Adelaide has found that chronic pain in women is more complex and harder to treat than chronic pain in men.

Understanding and managing chronic pain

July 4, 2014
Acupuncture, exercise and massage and physical therapy are among the ways to deal with chronic pain that don't require narcotic painkillers, says Nancy Elder, MD, professor of family and community medicine at the University ...

Teaching the brain to reduce pain

July 10, 2014
People can be conditioned to feel less pain when they hear a neutral sound, new research from the University of Luxembourg has found. This lends weight to the idea that we can learn to use mind-over-matter to beat pain.  The ...

Recommended for you

Many kinds of happiness promote better health, study finds

July 21, 2017
A new study links the capacity to feel a variety of upbeat emotions to better health.

Study finds gene variant increases risk for depression

July 20, 2017
A University of Central Florida study has found that a gene variant, thought to be carried by nearly 25 percent of the population, increases the odds of developing depression.

In making decisions, are you an ant or a grasshopper?

July 20, 2017
In one of Aesop's famous fables, we are introduced to the grasshopper and the ant, whose decisions about how to spend their time affect their lives and future. The jovial grasshopper has a blast all summer singing and playing, ...

Perceiving oneself as less physically active than peers is linked to a shorter lifespan

July 20, 2017
Would you say that you are physically more active, less active, or about equally active as other people your age?

Study examines effects of stopping psychiatric medication

July 20, 2017
Despite numerous obstacles and severe withdrawal effects, long-term users of psychiatric drugs can stop taking them if they choose, and mental health care professionals could be more helpful to such individuals, according ...

New study suggests that reduced insurance coverage for mental health treatment increases costs for the seriously ill

July 19, 2017
Higher out-of-pocket costs for mental health care could have the unintended consequence of increasing the use of acute and involuntary mental health care among those suffering from the most debilitating disorders, a Harvard ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Aug 01, 2014
Sounds like there could be a societal norm pulling strings in the background as well. If males are taught that it is okay for them to express emotion, or females that grew to be more independent, might show differing results on how they process emotions. How well have the socio-economic factors been ruled out too?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.