Pain, culture and pedagogy: a preliminary investigation of attitudes towards “reasonable” pain tolerance in the grassroots reproduction of a culture of risk

Miller, Paul K. ORCID logo ORCID: , van der Zee, Sophie and Elliott, David ORCID logo ORCID: (2021) Pain, culture and pedagogy: a preliminary investigation of attitudes towards “reasonable” pain tolerance in the grassroots reproduction of a culture of risk. Psychological Reports, 125 (2). pp. 1086-1102.

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In recent years a considerable body of psychological research has explored the relationship between membership of socio-cultural groups and personal pain perception. Rather less systematic attention has, however, been accorded to how such group membership(s) might influence individual attitudes towards the pain of others. In this paper, immersion in the culture of competitive sport, widely regarded as being exaggeratedly tolerant of “risky” behaviours around pain, is taken as a case-in-point with students of Physical Education (PE) in tertiary education as the key focus. PE students are highly-immersed in competitive sporting culture both academically and (typically) practically, and also represent a key nexus of cross-generational transmission regarding the norms of sport itself. Their attitudes towards the pain that others should reasonably tolerate during a range of activities, sporting and otherwise, were evaluated through a direct comparison with those of peers much less immersed in competitive sporting culture. In total, N=301 (144 PE, 157 non-PE) undergraduate students in the UK responded to a vignette-based survey. Therein, all participants were required to rate the pain (on a standard 0-10 scale) at which a standardised “other” should desist engagement with a set of five defined sporting and non-sporting tasks, each with weak and strong task severities. Results indicated that PE students were significantly more likely to expect others to persevere through higher levels of pain than their non-PE peers, but only during the sport-related tasks - an effect further magnified when task severity was high. In other tasks, there was no significant difference between groups, or valence of the effect was actually reversed. It is argued that the findings underscore some extant knowledge about the relationship between acculturated attitudes to pain, while also having practical implications for understanding sport-based pedagogy, and its potentially problematic role in the ongoing reproduction of a “culture of risk.”

Item Type: Article
Journal / Publication Title: Psychological Reports
Publisher: SAGE Publications
ISSN: 0033-2941
Departments: Institute of Health > Rehabilitation and Sport Science
Additional Information: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License ( which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed.
Depositing User: Paul Miller
Date Deposited: 14 Dec 2020 09:06
Last Modified: 13 Jan 2024 11:46


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