UT study finds ibuprofen relieves women’s emotional stress, not men’s

Clinton Jones

Ibuprofen relieves more than just physical pain in women, according to UT researchers.

A study by communication and psychology professors at the University found the drug also relieves women's emotional stress and pain, but does not do the same for men.

The study’s goal, according to communication professor Anita Vangelisti, was to establish a connection between physical and emotional pain by studying how ibuprofen affects feelings of rejection differently in women and men. 

“We were interested in looking at sex differences in the link between physical and emotional pain,” Vangelisti said. 

In the study, researchers gave half of the participants 400 milligrams of ibuprofen and gave the rest a placebo. 

Researchers asked participants to take part in a virtual ball tossing game, from which they were then excluded. Participants were asked to rate how they felt after being rejected. 

The results showed that when women took ibuprofen and were excluded from the ball tossing game, experienced less emotional pain than women who took the placebo.

Men who took ibuprofen reported greater emotional distress when they were excluded from the ball tossing game and when they wrote about betrayal and physical pain compared to men who took the placebo. 

Vangelisti said the study offers two possible explanations for the differences in effect. One reason could be that ibuprofen provides men, who are more prone to hide their hurt feelings, with cognitive resources that allow them to better express feelings of sadness and rejection. 

She said the other explanation is that the part of the brain that processes physical and emotional pain and the part of the brain that regulates emotion in men is linked. So ibuprofen, which alleviates physical pain, may also be decreasing men’s ability to suppress their expression of social pain. 

According to Vangelisti, this discovery can help counselors and psychologists better understand the impacts of cyber bullying.

“Cyber bullying is a widespread issue among both boys and girls,” Vangelisti said. “This research allows us to look at how teenage boys respond to that and how teenage girls respond to that, and understand that there may be very important differences there that we need to further explore.”