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.

Images courtesy of Mark Storhaug & Kaiya Bates

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The experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.

Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.

Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:

Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug

1. Pickleball to Get Fifth Graders Moving

Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."

Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.

Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.

Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.

Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates

2. Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids

According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.

Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."

She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.

Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.

To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.

Image courtesy of Julie Tarman

3. Library for a high school heritage Spanish class

Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.

The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.

Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.

To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.

Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.

Photo by R.D. Smith on Unsplash

Gem is living her best life.

If you've ever dreamed of spontaneously walking out the door and treating yourself a day of pampering at a spa without even telling anyone, you'll love this doggo who is living your best life.

According to CTV News, a 5-year-old shepherd-cross named Gem escaped from her fenced backyard in Winnipeg early Saturday morning and ended up at the door of Happy Tails Pet Resort & Spa, five blocks away. An employee at the spa saw Gem at the gate around 6:30 a.m. and was surprised when they noticed her owners were nowhere to be seen.

"They were looking in the parking lot and saying, 'Where's your parents?'" said Shawn Bennett, one of the co-owners of the business.

The employee opened the door and Gem hopped right on in, ready and raring to go for her day of fun and relaxation.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."