Leo Correa, AP
In this Aug. 6, 2018 file photo, a child receives a measles vaccination in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

SALT LAKE CITY — When presented with an image of a child getting their finger pricked, Americans are more likely to think a child feels less pain if they’re assumed to be female, according to a recent study.

What happened: The Journal of Pediatric Psychology published a study this month that shows adult perceptions of pain tolerance in children.

  • Two hundred and sixty-four adult participants between the ages of 18 and 75 were shown a video of a 5-year-old child whose gender appeared to be ambiguous, according to Independent. The clip shows a doctor administering a finger prick to the child.
  • After showing participants the video, psychologists from Yale and Georgia State University told one group of participants the child’s name was Samuel while telling the others her name was Samantha.
  • Participants were then asked to rate how much pain the “boy” or “girl” experienced on a scale from 0 (no pain) to 100 (severe pain), according to the Independent.

Results: According to the Independent, the study found that adults rated Samuel’s pain at 50.42 and Samantha’s pain at 45.90.

  • The Journal of Pediatric Psychology said the study “suggests possible gender bias.”
  • “Explicit gender stereotypes - for example, that boys are more stoic or girls are more emotive - may bias adult assessment of children’s pain,” the authors noted.

The study builds on the work of Lindsey Cohen, a Georgia State University psychologist who led a 2014 study where participants also rated their perceptions of a child’s pain, according to CNN.

Brian Earp, the lead Yale author of the most recent study, said the skew in the ratings is primarily due to the perceptions of the female participants.

  • Men were more likely to have an equal perception of boys’ and girls’ pain than women, who felt boys’ pain was more acute than girls’.
  • According to Earp, it was as though they thought, “For a boy to express that much pain, he must really be in pain.”

Maya Dusenbery, author of the book “Doing Harm,” found that sexism influences how the healthcare system treats women’s cases, and this study aligns with that.

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  • “It is remarkable that those stereotypes would start so young,” Dusenbery told CNN.
  • Women are more likely to seek care for pain, she said, but that doesn’t mean their pain should be taken less seriously.
  • “What happens in the real world is that women are seen as overstating pain rather than just being more accurate in describing it,” Dusenbery said.

The authors of the Journal of Pediatric Psychology study hope their findings will lead to further examination of the potential role of biases in pain assessment and health care, according to Independent.