Pain, Culture and Pedagogy: A Preliminary Investigation of Attitudes Towards “Reasonable” Pain Tolerance in the Grassroots Reproduction of a Culture of Risk

Paul K. Miller*, Sophie Van Der Zee, David Elliott

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


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.”.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1086-1102
Number of pages17
JournalPsychological Reports
Issue number2
Early online date11 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2022

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Publisher Copyright: © The Author(s) 2021.


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