Study Finds Girls Pain Taken Less Seriously Than Boys

A Yale University study revealed that adults take the pain of girls less seriously than that of boys. Even when both groups experienced the same level of pain, not only were boys thought to feel more pain than girls, but it’s adult women who lead the way on this belief.

About 264 adults participated in the study and were asked to watch a video of a child, whose gender was concealed for the study, getting a finger-pricking test at a doctor’s office. The participants were split into two groups, with one group being told the child was a boy, and the other group told the child was a girl. While results showed the adults believed the boy’s pain was much worse than the girl’s, men were more likely to have less of a bias than women, believing the pain of boys and girls as being on the same level.

The researchers don’t have answers as to why there is a gender bias on pain, but the study’s lead author Brian Earp said the participants in the study could have believed that “for a boy to express that much pain, he must really be in pain.” The study’s co-author said his team hopes “these findings will lead to further investigations into the potential role of biases in pain assessment and health care more generally.”

The Realist Woman’s take:

My reaction to this story was similar to the reaction I had for a story I highlighted last year about there being a gender pay gap within the home for chores. It’s always disheartening to find out that even at such a young age, girls are at a disadvantage as compared to boys. As a black woman, I have been extremely aware of how the pain of black women is dismissed throughout this country, but I didn’t know this gender bias on pain assessment started this early.

Most alarming, much like the chores story, is that women are perpetuating this horrible state of bias. To be fair, I don’t think women completely realize and are totally conscious of these biases against their own gender. As a person who has worked with kids for many years, I seriously questioned myself on whether I’ve ever had these same biases. My conclusion is that I have never seen the pain of boys and girls as different.

As a society, I do think that we perceive boys as being better suited to handle pain than girls simply because they’re boys. Boys are thought to be naturally rough and are used to being aggressive to the point of hurting themselves. They can walk off a knee scrape or worse and continually play. So, when they do express their pain, it’s taken seriously. Girls, on the other hand, are not perceived as being rough and are always emotional. So, girls expressing their pain is constant and normal. I don’t know. I’m not a Yale research author and even the actual Yale research authors don’t know. But the point is, there are some societal biases that we are perpetuating and hopefully, we do better for girls.