What’s That Smell?

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Men and women are different. So different, in fact, that it might be ruining all experimental research.

 Beyond the more obvious physical traits, sex differences are also displayed in our approaches to problem-solving as well as in the presentation of various illnesses. While on a tangent in class, we discussed how research indicates antidepressants affect women more strongly for their body weight than it affects men. This took a long time for researchers to discover because most medical testing is done on males because the periodic changes in the female body can obfuscate experimental results. It was assumed that men and women would react to medications the same way, so all male results could be generalized to women. But this logical fallacy is just the tip of the iceberg. What if the researcher’s gender matters too?

Jeffrey Mogil is a pain researcher at McGill University in Montreal. During the course of their research, Mogil’s team noticed that rodents tended to lick injection sites, a sign of pain, when humans were nearby. When the team delved deeper, their results were astounding: the rodents were licking their wounds less in front of the male researchers, but not the female researchers. The team theorizes that the scent of a lone male usually indicates danger, so it was evolutionarily beneficial to not display pain or weakness. In fact, further research demonstrated that the animals weren’t just hiding their pain; the male researchers’ scents wer actually working as a painkiller.

The ramifications of this research are astounding. If the scent of the researcher is a confounding factor in pain research, it could have effects in other fields of medicine. Between test subject gender and researcher gender, this recent research could call into question the results of many previous experiments. Mogil doubts that these new findings invalidate the findings of previous researchers, but he does agree that gender is a factor that should never be ignored, even when it doesn’t seem obviously important.

 

References

Grimm, D. (2014, April 28). Male Scent May Compromise Biomedical Research. Retrieved from Science Magazine: http://news.science.org/brain-behavior/2014/04/male-scent-may-compromise-biomedical-research

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