Adults Take Girls’ Pain Less Seriously

Summary: Researchers investigate the role gender stereotypes play when it comes to assessing pain in children. A new study reports adults tend to believe boys to be in more pain than girls.

Source: Yale.

Gender stereotypes can hurt children — quite literally. When asked to assess how much pain a child is experiencing based on the observation of identical reactions to a finger-stick, American adults believe boys to be in more pain than girls, according to a new Yale study in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology. The researchers attribute this downgrading of the pain of girls and/or upgrading of the pain of boys to culturally ingrained, and scientifically unproven, myths like “boys are more stoic” or “girls are more emotive.”

A diverse sample of American adults watched the same video of a 5-year-old receiving a finger-stick at a pre-Kindergarten doctor’s visit, and afterwards were asked to rate how much pain they thought the child was actually experiencing. While all participants watched an identical video of an identical child exhibiting identical pain-display behaviors, the group who knew the child as “Samuel” said he was in more pain than the group who knew her as “Samantha.” This new research backs up studies done on gender stereotyping and biased clinical assessment of pain in adult patient populations but is only the second of its kind to take these questions to the pediatric level.

a girl
While all participants watched an identical video of an identical child exhibiting identical pain-display behaviors, the group who knew the child as “Samuel” said he was in more pain than the group who knew her as “Samantha.” image is adapted from the Yale news release.

“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 ’20, second author on the study. “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.”

About this neuroscience research article

Funding: This study was funded by the Yale University Department of Psychology.

Other authors include Brian Earp, Marianne LaFrance, John Bargh, Lindsey Cohen, and Jennifer Richeson.

Source: Kendall Teare – Yale
Publisher: Organized by
Image Source: image is adapted from the Yale news release.
Original Research: Abstract for “Gender Bias in Pediatric Pain Assessment” by Brian D Earp, MSc, M.Phil; Joshua T Monrad; Marianne LaFrance, PhD; John A Bargh, PhD; Lindsey L Cohen, PhD; and Jennifer A Richeson, PhD in Journal of Pediatric Psychology. Published January 4 2019.

Cite This Article

[cbtabs][cbtab title=”MLA”]Yale”Adults Take Girls’ Pain Less Seriously.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 25 January 2019.
<>.[/cbtab][cbtab title=”APA”]Yale(2019, January 25). Adults Take Girls’ Pain Less Seriously. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved January 25, 2019 from[/cbtab][cbtab title=”Chicago”]Yale”Adults Take Girls’ Pain Less Seriously.” (accessed January 25, 2019).[/cbtab][/cbtabs]


Gender Bias in Pediatric Pain Assessment

Accurate assessment of pain is central to diagnosis and treatment in healthcare, especially in pediatrics. However, few studies have examined potential biases in adult observer ratings of children’s pain. Cohen, Cobb, & Martin (2014. Gender biases in adult ratings of pediatric pain. Children’s Health Care, 43, 87–95) reported that adult participants rated a child undergoing a medical procedure as feeling more pain when the child was described as a boy as compared to a girl, suggesting a possible gender bias. To confirm, clarify, and extend this finding, we conducted a replication experiment and follow-up study examining the role of explicit gender stereotypes in shaping such asymmetric judgments.

In an independent, pre-registered, direct replication and extension study with open data and materials (, we showed participants the same video from Cohen et al. (2014), with the child described as a boy or a girl depending on condition. We then asked adults to rate how much pain the child experienced and displayed, how typical the child was in these respects, and how much they agreed with explicit gender stereotypes concerning pain response in boys versus girls.

Similar to Cohen et al. (2014), but with a larger and more demographically diverse sample, we found that the “boy” was rated as experiencing more pain than the “girl” despite identical clinical circumstances and identical pain behavior across conditions. Controlling for explicit gender stereotypes eliminated the effect.

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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