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Hot Topics: Bias Minimizes Girls’ Pain

Jackie Werner Ethics, Hot Topics in Research, Pediatrics

Gender bias in pediatric pain assessment

Earp BD, Monrad JT, LaFrance M, Bargh JA, Cohen LL, Richeson JA. Gender bias in pediatric pain assessment. 2019. https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/jpepsy/jsy104.

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 (https://osf.io/t73c4/), 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.