Boo-Boo Bias? Adults Take Girls’ Pain Less Seriously, Study Finds

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Does gender play a role in how adults tend to children after suffering a boo-boo? A study by Yale psychologists find that people seem to take young girls’ pain less seriously than they would a boy.

The authors suggest cultural beliefs that “boys are more stoic” and “girls are more emotive” could be behind the behavior.

For the study, researchers showed 264 adults ages 18 to 75 (136 female, 128 male) a video of a child receiving a finger-stick at a pre-kindergarten doctor’s visit. The gender of the child in the video was not made clear to the participants, but about half were told the child’s name was “Samantha,” while the other group was told it was “Samuel.” (Another study determined that just 58% of participants were able to correctly determine the child in the video was actually a girl.)

After watching the child’s reaction to their finger being pricked, participants were asked to rate how much pain they thought the child experienced. Even though they all watched the same video, the authors found that people believed “Samuel” was in more pain than those who were told the child was a girl.

The study is just the second of its kind to test gender stereotyping of children when it comes to perception of 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,” says Joshua Monrad, second author on the study, in a news release. “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.”

The study was published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology.

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