International Study Finds a Gender Bias in the Perception of Other People’s Pain

A new study by an international group of scholars finds that a patient’s pain responses may be perceived differently by others based on their gender. When male and female patients expressed the same amount of pain, observers viewed female patients’ pain as less intense and more likely to benefit from psychotherapy versus medication as compared to men’s pain, exposing a significant patient gender bias that could lead to disparities in treatments.

Survey participants were asked to view various videos of male and female patients who suffered from shoulder pain performing a series of range of motion exercises using their injured and uninjured shoulders. Patients’ had self-reported levels of discomfort when moving their shoulders. The study participants were asked to gauge the amount of pain they thought the patients in the videos experienced on a scale from zero, labeled as “absolutely no pain,” and 100, labeled as “worst pain possible.”

The researchers analyzed the results of the participants’ responses to the videos compared to the patient’s self-reported level of pain. Overall, the study found that female patients were perceived to be in less pain than the male patients who reported, and exhibited, the same intensity of pain. Additionally, the study concluded that the gender of the perceivers did not influence pain estimation. Both men and women interpreted women’s pain to be less intense.

Elizabeth Losin, assistant professor of psychology and director of the Social and Cultural Neuroscience lab at the University of Miami and a co-author of the study stated that, “I think one critical piece of information that could be conveyed in medical curricula is that people, even those with medical training in other studies, have been found to have consistent demographic biases in how they assess the pain of male and female patients and that these biases impact treatment decisions. Critically, our results demonstrate that these gender biases are not necessarily accurate. Women are not necessarily more expressive than men, and thus their pain expression should not be discounted.”

Dr. Losin joined the faculty at the University of Miami in 2015. She is a graduate of Emory University in Atlanta, where she majored in neuroscience and behavioral biology as well as anthropology. Dr. Losin holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of California, Los Angeles.

The full study, “Gender Biases in Estimation of Others’ Pain,” was published on the website of the Journal of Pain. it may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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