A research study published in PAIN® found that people are biased in their perception of pain according to how much they like the person involved.
Through showing participants short video clips of patients undergoing physiotherapy who had previously been assigned either positive, neutral or negative character traits, the participants ranked the severity of the pain experienced by ‘negative’ patients as lower than that of ‘positive’ patients exhibiting the same level of pain. The participants were also asked to state whether they felt sympathetic or unsympathetic towards the patients, those patients perceived as unlikeable were given less sympathy and their pain considered to be less important.
Each of the patients exhibited a similar level of discomfort whilst undergoing the physiotherapy but each of the likeable patients was perceived to be in more extreme pain than those patients in the neutral category, which again, were thought to be in greater pain than the unlikeable patients. Lead investigator Liesbet Goubert commented that “Our results suggest that pain of disliked patients… is taken less seriously… This could imply less helping behavior by others as well as poorer health outcomes.”