Women's pain levels 'taken less seriously than men's'

·2-min read

A new study has shown that a woman in pain is taken less seriously than a man.

Experts have revealed that even when a man and woman said they were suffering from the same level of discomfort, the man was seen to be experiencing a greater degree of distress, exposing a "gender bias" in the estimation of pain.

The findings also showed that women suffering from pain were viewed as more likely to benefit from psychotherapy rather than medication, highlighting a possible gender disparity in treatment courses.

"If the stereotype is to think women are more expressive than men, perhaps 'overly' expressive, then the tendency will be to discount women's pain behaviours," said co-author of the study, Elizabeth Losin, assistant professor of psychology and director of the Social and Cultural Neuroscience lab at the University of Miami.

"The flip side of this stereotype is that men are perceived to be stoic, so when a man makes an intense pain facial expression, you think, 'Oh my, he must be dying!' The result of this gender stereotype about pain expression is that each unit of increased pain expression from a man is thought to represent a higher increase in his pain experience than that same increase in pain expression by a woman."

The study, which was published in the Journal of Pain, involved two experiments.

The first experiment saw 50 participants watch videos of male and female patients with shoulder injuries performing a series of exercises and experiencing different levels of pain.

Participants were asked to rate the amount of pain they thought the patients were suffering, on a scale where zero was "no pain" and 100 was the "worst pain possible".

In the second experiment, 200 participants viewed the same videos and then were asked to complete a Gender Role Expectation of Pain questionnaire, which measures gender-related stereotypes relating to dealing with pain and reporting discomfort. Participants were also asked to evaluate how much medication and psychotherapy each patient would need to recover from their shoulder injury.

"I think one critical piece of information that could be conveyed 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," Losin said. "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."