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Pain of girls taken less seriously than that of boys, US study finds

The study has found that boys may still be perceived as being more "stoic" than girls

Katie O'Malley
Friday 01 February 2019 12:49 GMT
School children walking away.
School children walking away.

American adults consider a child to be in less pain when they’re thought to be a girl, a recent study claims.

The study, published in The Journal of Pediatric Psychology, involved psychologists at Yale and Georgia Universities showing 264 men and women aged 18 – 75 a video of a 5-year-old whose gender appeared ambiguous.

In the clip, a doctor can be seen administering a finger-prick to the infant.

After watching the video, one group of volunteers was told the child in question was named Samuel, while another group was informed her name was Samantha.

Based on the child’s reaction, adults were then asked to rate how much pain the “boy” or “girl” in the video experienced, on a scale from 0 (no pain) to 100 (severe pain).

The experiment found adults rated Samuel’s pain at 50.42, and Samantha’s pain rated 45.90.

"Explicit gender stereotypes - for example, that boys are more stoic or girls are more emotive - may bias adult assessment of children's pain," the authors concluded.

Joshua Monrad, second author on the study, said the team hopes their findings will lead to futher investigation into the potential role of biases in pain assessment and health care more generally”.

"If the phenomena that we observed in our studies generalize to other contexts, it would have important implications for diagnosis and treatment," he explained.

"Any biases in judgments about pain would be hugely important because they can exacerbate inequitable health care provision."

The study was inspired by the research of one of its co-authors, Lindsey Cohen of Georgia State University, who led a 2014 study in which a large group of female nursing and psychology students rated their perceptions of a child's pain after watching the video of his or her finger being pricked.

The group rated Samuel as experiencing more pain than Samantha, despite the child displaying the same reaction.

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