Doctors made this surprising discovery when investigating how both sexes responded to the pain of chronic conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
A research team from London and Japan, led by Professor Qasim Aziz, of the Wingate Institute for Neurogastroenterology, Queen Mary University of London, looked into the brain activity and reactions of 16 men and 16 women who were anticipating pain.
The volunteers in question were told that a very small balloon would be expanded in their gullet for the period of a second before their procedure began.
In the time leading up to the procedure, women were found to have less activity in areas of the brain which processed fear, and more activity in the areas which involved planning actions and movements which could help reduce or avoid the anticipated pain.
In contrast, in men it was fear of the event itself that was more predominant than planning for the pain, though during the event itself this flipped around with men showing greater activity in the areas of pain avoidance.
Women’s initial reactions were also found to experience a u-turn during the actual event, with the most activity occurring in areas of the brain which processed fear.
Professor Jon Rhodes, president of the British Society of Gastroenterology said ‘This is a fascinating study that uses the latest non-invasive technology to assess how the brain works. It gives new insight into the mechanisms that underlie functional abdominal pain due to conditions such as irritable bowel that cause great nuisance and distress to so many people. There is a good chance that it will lead to development of new treatment strategies.’