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Hit me baby one more time

Here’s a weird bit of pain research: A scientist claims to have shown that people feel more pain if the person inflicting the pain is a man.

David Williams of the University of Westminster set up an experiment that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Spanish Inquisition: He had students put their fingers in a clamp, and then had other students twist it tighter and tighter until the pain was unbearable. The result? The subjects allowed women to twist the clamp much further than men. As Williams told the BBC:

“This effect is likely to be a result of what participants subconsciously expect, based on socially acquired gender stereotypes — people feel that they are less likely to experience intense pain from a stimulus given by a woman rather than a man.”

You can read more about his argument in the university’s press release. His results seem very intriguing, though I’m not too sure about his conclusions; whenever scientists start generalizing about how “women are this way and men are that way,” I always suspect (maybe unfairly in lots of cases) that they’re wheeling their own full set of Samsonite baggage onto the tarmac.

(Thanks to John for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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