Thinking medical professionals will be unbiased and treat everyone equally? Think again as a new study has found that those around a patient they do not like are perceptually less sympathetic to such patients' pain.
Researchers at the Ghent University in Belgium prepared 40 study participants (17 men and 23 women) by having them view pictures of six patients tagged with simple descriptions that ranged from negative (egoistic, hypocritical, or arrogant) to neutral (true to tradition, reserved, or conventional) to positive (faithful, honest, or friendly).
The participants were then shown short videos of the patients undergoing a standardized physiotherapy assessment.
The six patients were all experiencing shoulder pain and eight 2 second video clips from each patient were taken, resulting in 48 different fragments.
After watching each video fragment, the participants were asked to rate the severity of pain of the patients on a scale of "no pain" to "pain as bad as could be".
The participants were then asked to judge the patients to be negative or positive, disagreeable or agreeable, and unsympathetic or sympathetic.
The researchers found that participants rated patients associated with negative traits as less likeable than patients associated with neutral traits.
Further, pain of disliked patients expressing high intensity pain was estimated as less intense than pain of liked patients expressing high intensity pain.
"Identifying variables that influence pain estimation by others is relevant as pain estimation might influence crucial actions concerning pain management both in the professional context as well as in the everyday environment," commented lead researcher Liesbet Goubert, PhD, assistant professor of Health Psychology and co-investigator Geert Crombez, PhD, head of the Department of Experimental-Clinical and Health Psychology, Ghent University, Belgium.
"Our results suggest that pain of disliked patients who express high pain is taken less seriously by others. This could imply less helping behavior by others as well as poorer health outcomes," he added.
The study is published in Pain.