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Priming with energy drinks may promote men's tolerance of social pain.

Since the manufacture of the caffeinated energy drink Red Bull began in 1997, energy drink consumption has become increasingly popular among adolescents, college students, and young adults (Malinauskas, Aeby, Overton, Carpenter-Aeby, & Barber-Heidal, 2007). Indeed, revenue from sales of energy drinks in the US was forecasted to approach $20 billion by the end of 2013 (Azagba, Langille, & Asbrigde, 2014). In energy drink advertising, masculine identification is consistently emphasized (Chiou, Wu, & Lee, 2013; Miller, 2008). In prior research, there has been a focus on the link between energy drink consumption and problem behaviors, such as substance abuse, violence, law breaking, unsafe sex, and reckless driving (see Miller, 2008, for a review). However, to our knowledge, no studies have been conducted in which the researchers have addressed the priming effect of energy drinks on the particular masculine characteristic of tolerance of social pain. In one meta-analysis, the findings indicated that men typically tolerate more pain in experimental settings than do women (Riley, Robinson, Wise, Myers, & Fillingim, 1998). A viable explanation for these gender differences in pain tolerance is men's conformity to masculine norms (i.e., the ideal, masculine man tolerates more pain than women do; Pool, Schwegler, Theodore, & Fuchs, 2007). We conducted an experimental study to show that priming with energy drinks may heighten men's conformity to masculine norms and, thereby, increase men's tolerance of social pain because of concern about possible social exclusion.

Toughness appears to be the trait in which men show the greatest difference from women (Feingold, 1994). People tend to bring extremes of this trait to mind when they think of men as tough and women as tender (Feingold, 1994). According to traditional gender norms, men should show greater pain tolerance for the sake of maintaining their masculine image (Bendelow, 1993). In self-categorization theory (Terry & Hogg, 1996) it is also posited that men are expected to conform to gender norms and, therefore, they tolerate more pain than women would. Previous researchers have revealed that participants who reported more masculine than feminine traits had higher pain tolerance (see Myers, Robinson, Riley, & Sheffield, 2001, for a related review). Energy drinks are typically marketed to adolescents and young adults, particularly males (Reissig, Strain, & Griffiths, 2009). In energy drink advertising, there is usually an emphasis on, and reinforcement of, the masculine image of the brand (De Mooij & Hofstede, 2010; Miller, 2008; Wimer & Levant, 2013). Previous researchers have demonstrated that perceived masculinity is associated with masculinity-related behaviors, such as individuals' behaviors of help seeking (e.g., Addis & Mahalik, 2003) and violence (e.g., Cohn & Zeichner, 2006). Recently, Chiou et al. (2013) showed that energy drink consumption is associated in men's minds with the achievement of a masculine sense of self. Building on recent advances in behavioral priming and the link between energy drinks and masculine self-completion, we contended that energy drinks may prime men for heightened conformity to masculine norms and help generate greater tolerance of social pain, which is defined as the distressing experience resulting from the perception of actual or potential psychological distance from others in a social group (i.e., social exclusion; Eisenberger & Lieberman, 2004). We tested this hypothesis by examining whether or not mere exposure to energy drink primes would strengthen men's conformity to masculine norms and, thereby, promote pain tolerance in the face of social exclusion experienced in playing Cyberball (Eisenberger, Lieberman, & Williams, 2003). Cyberball is an online ball-tossing game that has been widely used to study the social pain of exclusion (Eisenberger & Lieberman, 2004).



Via campus posters, we recruited 93 men ([M.sub.age] = 21.5 years, SD = 1.9) who were undergraduate students at a public university in southern Taiwan.


After providing consent, participants were asked to engage in a mental visualization task. They were randomly assigned to one of three study conditions: energy-drink prime, neutral prime, or no prime. To fit our purpose, we created a modification of Cyberball (called Hybrid Cyberball), in which our target prime (Red Bull) or neutral prime (Spalding) was shown on the throwing ball as the brand name, whereas no prime was shown on the throwing ball under the control condition.

Participants were led to believe that they would be playing this game online with three other participants, who were supposedly connected online. However, in reality, only the participant played in each game as a computer program (MATLAB[R]) controlled the throws of the three other players. The computer-generated players were set to wait between 0.5 and 3.0 seconds before making a throw, to heighten the sense of the participant that he was actually playing with real people. The participant returned the ball to one of the other cyber-players by pressing an arrow key on the computer keyboard. Participants were explicitly told that they could stop playing during the game by pressing the escape key. All participants first experienced an initial phase of five throws, in which the ball was tossed equally among the players, and then a subsequent exclusionary phase, during which they were excluded from the remaining throws until they stopped the ball-tossing exercise. At this point, the number of throws from which the participant had been excluded in the exclusionary phase was taken as the indicator of social pain tolerance.

After playing the game, participants completed a demographic questionnaire and rated a series of six statements on a 4-point scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 4 (strongly agree). These statements were taken from the Conformity to Masculinity Norms Inventory (Mahalik et al., 2003); sample items are "It is important for me to win," "I must get my way," and "It feels good to be important." Participants' responses to the six items showed satisfactory consistency ([alpha] = .86). We compiled an index of state conformity to masculine norms by averaging responses to these statements, then performed a manipulation check of participants to be sure that they had noticed the exclusion and had recognized the primed word on the ball. During the probe for suspicion, none of the participants were aware of the actual purpose of the study.


The outcome of the manipulation check was that participants in the energy drink prime condition all reported that the words on the ball were Red Bull, and those in the neutral prime condition all reported that the word on the ball was Spalding. Additionally, participants reported the number of throws they had received quite accurately (M = 5.06, SD = 0.61), t(92) = 0.94, p > .35.

An analysis of variance (ANOVA) of the number of exclusionary throws tolerated (M = 24, SD = 6.7) revealed significant differences among the three experimental groups, F(2, 90) = 10.32, p < .001. A 2-1-1 a priori contrast confirmed that participants primed with the words Red Bull tolerated more exclusion throws than did both control groups, F(1, 90) = 12.68, p = .001, [[eta].sup.2.sub.p] = .123 (see Table 1). In addition, the results presented in Table 1 show that the number of exclusion throws tolerated was the same for the neutral-prime and the no-prime conditions, t(60) = -0.66, p > .51.

As shown in Table 1, participants who received the Red Bull prime reported higher levels of conformity to masculine norms than did participants in both other conditions, F(1, 90) = 36.42, p > .001, [[eta].sup.2.sub.p] = .288. No differences in this measure were observed between the neutral-prime and the no-prime conditions, F(1, 90) = 0.89, p > .38.

We performed a mediation analysis to examine whether or not the priming effect of energy drinks (1 = energy drink prime, 0 = neutral prime and no prime) on the number of exclusion throws tolerated was mediated by induced conformity to masculine norms (M = 2.51, SD = 0.61). The energy drink prime predicted participants' scores on conformity to masculine norms (B = 0.73, SE = 0.11, [beta] = .56, t = 6.46, p < .001), conformity to masculinity norms predicted the number of exclusion throws tolerated (B = 6.52, SE = 1.06, [beta] = .60, t = 6.16, p < .001), and the relationship between energy drink prime and the number of exclusion throws tolerated (B = 6.06, SE = 1.35, [beta] = .43, t = 4.51, p < .001) was no longer significant when we controlled for conformity to masculine norms (B = 1.33, SE = 1.37, [beta] = .09, t = 0.97,p > .34). A bootstrapping analysis (Preacher & Hayes, 2008) for testing the indirect effect of energy drink prime on the number of exclusion throws tolerated through induced conformity to masculine norms (B = 4.74, SE = 1.20) showed that the 99% bias-corrected confidence interval for the size of the indirect effect excluded zero (2.12, 9.02), suggesting a significant indirect effect.


Building on recent advances in behavioral priming and empirical work on a connection between energy drinks and masculinity, we conducted a laboratory experiment to test the link between priming with energy drinks and men's tolerance of social pain. Our results showed that an energy drink prime increased tolerance for social pain caused by exclusion among our participants. The finding that participants exposed to the energy drink prime showed a greater level of state conformity to masculine norms compared to participants in the neutral-prime condition and the no-prime condition supports the existence of an association between energy drinks and masculinity. Our mediation analysis also indicates that priming with energy drinks may bolster men's conformity to masculine norms, thereby leading to increased tolerance of social pain.

Prior research in social psychology has shown that being primed with a social construct is sufficient to activate associated mental representations and to cause biased behavior (Ferguson & Bargh, 2004). We are the first to provide experimental evidence showing that exposure to energy drinks can bolster men's conformity to masculine norms and increase their tolerance for social pain. The results of the mediation analysis further supported the active-self account for behavioral priming (Wheeler, DeMarree, & Petty, 2007), in that the priming effect operated by providing a temporary boost in the activated self-concept, namely, conformity to masculine norms. Our results supplement previous findings in literature that show activating a stereotype can affect current self-presentations in a way consistent with stereotypes (see Wheeler & Petty, 2001, for a review) and complements reported findings on the symbolic power of products on the self (see e.g., the symbolic power of counterfeit products on an inauthentic self in Gino, Norton, & Ariely, 2010; and the symbolic power of generic products in relation to a lower sense of self-worth in Chiou & Chao, 2011).

With respect to research limitations, we acknowledge that our findings were immediate effects obtained in a laboratory setting. Caution should be exercised when generalizing these findings to real-world settings. Moreover, priming effects result from nonconscious activation of prime-related mental content (Bargh, 2006). The failure to detect long-term effects is a limitation of the priming paradigm. In terms of future research directions, evidence from neuroimaging indicates that social and physical forms of pain both rely on similar mechanisms (i.e., anterior cingulate cortex and right ventral prefrontal cortex; see Eisenberger & Lieberman, 2004, for a related review). Whether or not the effect of energy drink primes on social pain tolerance would extend to tolerance of physical pain could be an interesting area for future exploration. Further, masculinity identification varies among individuals; future researchers may test whether or not variation in masculinity identification would be a critical moderator in determining when exposure to masculinity-related products leads to increased tolerance of social pain. Additionally, in self-completion theory (Gollwitzer & Kirchhof, 1998), it is proposed that a man's personal identity may act as a defining goal that motivates him to acquire identity-relevant symbols. The link we observed between thoughts of energy drinks and our male participants' conformity to masculine norms suggests that exploring the relationship between masculinity completeness and gender-related products, such as energy drinks, alcohol, violent games, and high-risk financial products, is worthy of future investigation.

In the real-world situation, there are ubiquitous messages about masculinity gender-role norms that tell men what it means to "be a man." Our findings indicate that incidental exposure to energy drinks can induce masculine self-presentation outside of the domain of actually drinking these products. Energy drinks appear to embody an emphasis on masculinity. Thus, for men, incidental exposure to energy drinks might also promote numbness to social pain.


National Sun Yat-sen University

Torulf Karlsson, Darren Abetkoff, and Wen-Bin Chiou, Institute of Education, National Sun Yat-sen University.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to: Wen-Bin Chiou, Institute of Education, National Sun Yat-sen University, 70 Lien-Hai Road, Kaohsiung 80424, Taiwan, ROC. Email:


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Table 1. Means and Standard Deviations of Masculinity
Conformity and Exclusion Toleration According to Prime

Measures                 Energy drink   Neutral          No prime
                           prime          prime

                           M      SD      M      SD      M      SD

Conformity to            2.99    0.49   2.32    0.58   2.21    0.45
  masculinity norms
Number of exclusion      28.00   6.80   21.00   5.70   225.9   5.90
  throws tolerated

Note. Average scores on conformity to masculinity norms
ranged from 1 to 4.
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Article Details
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Author:Karlsson, Torulf; Abetkoff, Darren; Chiou, Wen-Bin
Publication:Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal
Article Type:Report
Date:Jul 1, 2015
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