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Women’s physical pain undervalued due to gender bias

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According to a recent international study, the pain that women can experience is generally underestimated compared to that of men. However, this same pain is clinically equal. However, these gender biases unfavorable to women mainly intervene in the allocation of treatment.

An underestimation of women’s pain

Women and men have the same propensity to feel the pain. Nevertheless, a study published in The Pain Diary March 5, 2021 evokes gender biases regarding the estimation of pain in medicine. These works including two distinct experiences were conducted by an international group of psychology researchers from China, the United States and France.

The first experience included about fifty participants, namely thirty women and twenty men not belonging to the medical world. The researchers showed them videos of patients of both sexes with shoulder pain that was significantly similar in intensity. The volunteers were asked to rate the patients’ pain on a scale of 0 to 100. However, the participants systematically assigned a higher score for men. In short, the pains of women have been underestimated.

The second experiment concerned a larger sample, namely 197 participants (81 women and 116 men). Not only was it a question of evaluating the pain of female and male patients, but also of putting themselves in the shoes of doctors deciding on the choice of treatment. The volunteers also had to fill out a document with ten questions. The goal ? Know the possible gender stereotypes or biases present among the participants.

Credit: paulfourk / iStock

A recurring gender bias

This second experiment led to the same observation as the first. Indeed, for equal pain and the same degree of expression, women’s pain was again underestimated. Researchers have also identified a recurring stereotype, namely that women express their pain more than men.

“The more participants believed women were more willing to report pain than men, the less pain they perceived from patients”, can we read in the study.

Psychologists have also discussed the allocation of treatments. The participants have more prescribed psychotherapies women rather than men instead of drugs. However, the patients in question did not need psychotherapeutic treatment any more than the men. The point is, the profiles were very similar in terms of psychology and general health. Here again, it was a question of how women expressed their pain. For researchers, these gender biases may have a impact on pain estimation and thus, on the choice of treatment intended to remedy it.


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