A new study found that both men and women say women exaggerate how much pain they experience

A female friend once told her husband that her doctors had dismissed her when she described how much pain she was in. Her husband gave the docs the benefit of the doubt, saying that pain was subjective and maybe she just needed to describe it differently. Then he went to a doctor's appointment with her, saw the phenomenon himself, and apologized. She was right. She'd explained exactly what she was experiencing—the doctors just didn't believe that her pain was as bad as she was describing.

Gender bias in pain assessment and treatment in clinical settings is well-documented, but a new study has found that it's not just health professionals who tend to think women exaggerate pain levels. In a paper published this month in the Journal of Pain, an international group of researchers from the U.S., France, and China shared that among a sample of average adults, both men and women show a "reasonably strong gender bias" in their interpretations of patients' pain. The main takeaway is that people tend to believe that women aren't in as much pain as they really are.


The study involved two experiments, the first with 50 participants and the second with 197, in which people watched videos of both male and female patients experiencing shoulder pain. Participants were asked to observe the patients' expressions of pain and rate their pain level on a scale of zero (absolutely no pain) to 100 (the worst pain possible).

In both experiments, participants perceived female patients to be in less pain than the males, even when they were experiencing the same intensity level of pain. And across the sample, women were just as likely to underestimate women's pain as men were.

Participants were also asked how they would prescribe treatment for the patients' pain if they were doctors. Though the numbers weren't drastically different, women were more likely than men to be prescribed psychotherapy (42% for women, 38% for men), while men were more likely than women to be prescribed pain medication (58% for women, 62% for men).

Why such discrepancies? The study authors think on reason is gender expectations and stereotypes.

"Generally, boys are discouraged from expressing emotions, whereas girls are permitted to express them," the study authors told The Academic Times. "As a result, men may be more reluctant to express pain and other vulnerabilities than women. Thus, masculine gender norms are associated with high pain tolerance and stoicism whereas feminine gender norms are more permissive of expressing pain."

In other words, since people perceive men to hide their emotions more, the assumption is that they are actually in more pain than they're letting on. Since women show their emotions more, the assumption is that their pain may not be as bad as they're expressing.

Researchers also included a Gender Role Expectation of Pain Questionnaire in their second experiment, which found that women tend to believe that women are able to endure pain longer than men, and both genders believe that women are substantially more willing to report pain than men. According to the authors, those pain-related stereotypes predicted the pain estimated biases shown in the experiment.

Paradoxically, women may be perceived as exaggerating their pain precisely because they are more open and honest about it.

"Women are consistently found to report higher levels of pain than men and to be more expressive of pain than men," the authors said. "Perceivers may in turn get habituated to more frequent or more intense pain expressions in females and as a result reduce the pain they attribute to those expressions."

Such gender biases in pain estimation matter, as they can interfere with effective clinical care when coming from physicians and impact social support when coming from the people around us. Similar pain perception biases also happen along racial lines, so women of color face an even steeper climb to have their pain recognized and treated effectively.

Though biases are subconscious and can be tricky to weed out, a simple solution here is a shift in mindset to believing women when they describe what's happening in their own bodies. Pain is subjective, which should be all the more reason not to make your own judgments about what someone else is experiencing. If a woman says her pain level is a 7 out of 10, that's what she means. She knows her body. It's okay to take her at her word.

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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