A recent study by researchers from University College and Kings Cross College in London and the University of Hertfordshire made headlines at the start of January 2015 with its conclusions that some women would find childbirth easier if their partner was not with them during labour.
The study was actually about attachment, because the researchers were interested in whether women with different attachment ‘styles’ or types had different experiences of pain depending on the presence or absence of their partners. The study worked like this:
1) Respondents, all female, completed a questionnaire to measure the extent to which she avoided emotional intimacy in relationships.
2) The respondents were then subjected to moderate pain, caused by a laser beam on one finger. The size of the brain’s electrical response to the pain were measured as well as a verbal report from the respondent as to the level of pain experienced.
3) The test was carried out both with the respondents’ romantic partner present, and without.
Those women whose questionnaire results indicated that they avoided emotional intimacy in relationships experienced more pain when their partner was with them than they did without their partner. This was true both of the electrical measure of brain response to pain and the subjective reports of level of pain. Women who were more emotionally intimate in relationships did not exhibit the same variation in response.
Despite the extrapolation of the study’s results to childbirth in the media, one of the researchers did point out that the pain a mother feels during childbirth may be different from the pain studied in the study.