Yale Study: Adults Downplay Little Girls’ Pain, Compared to Little Boys’


Jan 30, 2019


Adults, when watching a video of a 5-year-old child reacting to getting their finger pricked, rated the child’s pain more severe when the child was ‘Samuel,’ versus when the child was ‘Samantha,’ according to a new study out of Yale University.

Researchers say this difference in perceptions of male and female children’s pain reflects gender stereotypes of ‘tough’ boys and ’emotional’ and ‘weaker’ girls; when they controlled for belief in traditional gender norms, adults’ ratings of the children’s pain equalized.

It is the second study of its kind to suggest gender biases may influence practitioners’ perceptions of pain among children. But it builds on a much larger body of evidence that gender biases may influence clinical assessment of adults’ pain. Last year, The Swaddle reported on doctors’ attitudes to women’s reported pain that delayed treatment of infections, some life-threatening. Other publications, in other parts of the world, have documented this societal malpractice in detail as well.

Related on The Swaddle:
Some Doctors See Pain As Just A Symptom of Being Female

As noted then, when clinicians dismiss or downplay female pain, women are taught to doubt their interpretation of physical experiences, to accept pain as the norm — or at least as no big deal. These and other damaging gender norms are internalized by age 10, setting the stage for a lifetime of inequality with life-threatening implications.

More and more research is showing men and women experience pain, remember pain, and describe pain very differently. It’s time to adjust our perceptions, and attention, from less versus more, stronger versus weaker, to simply — different, especially when dealing with children, who may struggle to communicate their sensations with the same facility of an adult.

“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, a Yale University psychology student and the study’s second author. “If the phenomena that we observed in our studies generalize to other contexts, it would have important implications for diagnosis and treatment. Any biases in judgments about pain would be hugely important because they can exacerbate inequitable health care provision.”


Written By Liesl Goecker

Liesl Goecker is The Swaddle’s managing editor.


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