A study published this month in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology asked adults to assess how much pain a child was experiencing by looking at identical reactions to a finger-stick test. Adults upgraded the level of pain they thought boys were feeling and downgraded the girls' pain.
"We really hope that these findings will lead to further investigation into the potential role of biases in pain assessment and health care more generally," said Joshua Monrad, second author on the Yale study in a news release.
The belief that 'boys are more stoic' and 'girls are more emotive'
Monrad and researchers hope the study prompts pediatric doctors to notice and correct their own biases in health care practice.
As part of the study, 264 adults were told they were watching a video of a child's prekindergarten finger-prick test at a doctor's office. Men and women were told to rate the pain based on a child's reaction on a level from 0 (no pain) to 100 (severe pain). The catch is that both children — a boy and a girl — had the same reaction to the test.
Adults rated the boy's pain as 50.42 and the girl's at 45.90.
The study's conclusion: "Explicit gender stereotypes — for example, that boys are more stoic or girls are more emotive — may bias adult assessment of children's pain."
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Here comes the twist
Researchers at the Yale University Department of Psychology-funded study found that women were more likely to downgrade female pain than men.
"This is a big mystery," Brian D. Earp, associate director of the Yale-Hastings Program in Ethics and Health Policy told the Washington Post. "We're spitballing to come up with a reason."
Kate Manne, Cornell University philosopher and author of "Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny," told the newspaper it wasn't all that surprising, but was "really sad."
"Since there's more pressure on women to be appropriately sympathetic to pain, and since we're biased in the direction of taking male pain more seriously, it make sense that women are as bad if not worse," she said.
Research has shown that young kids do not experience pain differently based on gender, at least until puberty.