William The Coroner’s Forensic Files

Wednesday, 25, June, 2008

Redheads and Pain

Filed under: Science — williamthecoroner @ 22:39

Evidently, redheads have a lower pain tolerance than people with other hair colours. Thus saith the BBC. I’m not sure how much I buy this. The authors of the study postulate differences in melanocortin levels are responsible for both effects.

Cells that develop into the nervous system are derived from the ectoderm, referred to as neural crest cells. Foxes raised in captivity and undergoing selective breeding for tameness did also develop varigated coat colours, so a change in behaviour was correlated with a change in phenotype. Of course, correlation is not causation.

Then, of course, there are the ethical (and safety) issues that arise when you go to study this phenomenon. Do you really want to go poking redheads with pointy sticks? What happens to the pointy stick that you poke the redhead with? Can it be retrieved from the experimenter without major surgery? All of that.


  1. Interesting concept… Sounds like another statistical summary that is, well, statistics… I’d bet there would be major surgery required to retrieve said pointy object! At least based on the red heads I know… 🙂

    Comment by Old NFO — Thursday, 26, June, 2008 @ 02:29 | Reply

  2. There were at least 2 earlier studies of redheads and pain tolerance. If I recall correctly, they came to opposite conclusions. One agreed with the latest rehash, the other disagreed.

    Comment by Rogue Medic — Thursday, 26, June, 2008 @ 10:52 | Reply

  3. I’m a redhead and I can attest. . . I’m a total wimp when it comes to pain. If allowed. I ripped open a chunk of my palm climbing a tree blind one time, cleaned it with my canteen, bound it up with a strip of shirt and stayed in the blind for 8 hours because it was just a perfect day to hunt.

    Small nick in the presence of a large furry man and I’ll be “owowowowowowow. . kiss it and make it better”

    I’m no fool.

    Comment by Brigid — Thursday, 26, June, 2008 @ 11:40 | Reply

  4. “Do you really want to go poking redheads with pointy sticks?”

    No thanks; most of the redheads I know would be testing MY pain tolerance if I tried that.

    Comment by BobG — Thursday, 26, June, 2008 @ 13:07 | Reply

  5. Actually, I recall reading in a book about redhair, “Roots of Desire” by Marion Roach, that redheads have a higher tolerance for pain.

    As for me (light red hair, covered in freckles): it is not that I can tolerate more pain, it is just that I cannot feel it unless it is a certain type, or at a certain level. I have been known to cut and bruise myself without knowing until I see the injury. I very seldom get headaches. This is not really a good thing, since I have been known to walk on a broken foot.

    Oh, and when I am in pain — I am the most miserable whiny person to be around.

    Comment by HCN — Thursday, 26, June, 2008 @ 19:23 | Reply

  6. Oh, by the way… just actually read the article: It was not about pain, but response to anesthesia. A completely different topic. The book mentioned above also mentions that.

    It is about going under with anesthesia, not about pain per se. Fortunately, I did manage to handle anesthesia this morning fairly well. The biggest issue is that I cannot tolerate narcotics, so the nurse gave me anti-nausea meds before the doctor put the anesthesia into the IV before the procedure. My bum still hurts a bit from the pre-procedure routine (colonoscopy… lots of fluids with laxative, though no cramps or bloating). The joys of being 50.

    Comment by HCN — Thursday, 26, June, 2008 @ 19:32 | Reply

  7. The English LOVE causing redheads pain. This is just not an issue for them!

    Tangentially related: I remember my mother, who was in medical records for twenty years, telling me that doctors would not give general anasthetics to redheads who were born in the Ottawa Valley, because they had an alarming tendency not to ever wake up. I don’t think they found a cause, but there was definite correlation and the doctors in the region were aware of it. I have a couple of red-headed cousins from there, and it’s been a problem for them.

    Comment by raincoaster — Thursday, 26, June, 2008 @ 19:51 | Reply

  8. I’m a redhead and I actually have a ridiculously high pain threshhold. So they can take that pointy stick elsewhere, I don’t need their opinions.

    However, I do swell a great deal if injured or memorably, when my wisdom teeth were extracted the hard way (by breaking them to pieces etc). And the dental surgeon told me that I would swell, that redheads always do, they don’t bruise so much as they swell. I looked like I had a football under my chin for weeks.

    I wonder if it matters what kind of redhead you are? Irish vs. Swedish vs. some other ethnic origin?

    Comment by Impetua — Thursday, 26, June, 2008 @ 19:53 | Reply

  9. Poke a red head female with a pointy stick? ON PURPOSE?

    Rather shoot myself in the foot. Quicker recovery time.

    Comment by Carteach0 — Thursday, 26, June, 2008 @ 19:56 | Reply

  10. Carteach, I didn’t make any gender comment. No sexist I.

    Raincoaster, there’s an entity called malignant hyperthermia http://www.anes.ucla.edu/dept/mh.html associated with central core disease and the muscular dystrophies, but I do not believe there is any relation to hair colour.

    Comment by williamthecoroner — Thursday, 26, June, 2008 @ 20:14 | Reply

  11. wow, jeez, Brigid– so THAT is what I’ve been doing wrong all these years. GOing to do the “ow ow ow kiss it” routine next time. I shall always consider you a benefactress!

    Comment by phlegmfatale — Friday, 27, June, 2008 @ 22:31 | Reply

  12. I too am a rehead… I have found myself in quite a few situations in my life that have been increadibly painfull and i have often wondered if I might die… Because of the amount of pain that I experienced. Child birth was insane, I know that almost every wonan has their own painfull story to tell, but even with meds and not being able to move my lower body i was still in horrible pain. I was recently so ill that I was tested for West Nile Virus and Dengue Fever. I felt as if my body was being crushed and it was so painfull to breathe that my lips were blue. My severe amount of pain landed me in the hospital. I had the great flu of 2009. I am the world most sensitive rehead… or just a weenie?

    Comment by Jamie — Monday, 13, April, 2009 @ 02:39 | Reply

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