When Others Dislike You, Your Pain Doesn't Matter

People are more sympathetic to the pain of patients who seem honest or friendly, study shows

MONDAY, Oct. 10 (HealthDay News) -- People are more sympathetic and receptive to the pain of likeable patients than those who are disliked, according to a new study.

Researchers say the findings could result in a lower level of care for people associated with negative qualities.

Researchers at Ghent University in Belgium asked 40 volunteers to look at photos of six patients labeled with negative, neutral or positive descriptions, such as egotistical, reserved or friendly.

The volunteers then watched short videos of the patients with shoulder pain undergoing a physical. Based on what they saw, viewers rated the severity of the patients' pain on a scale of "no pain" to "pain as bad as could be," and categorized the patients as negative or positive, disagreeable or agreeable, as well as unsympathetic or sympathetic.

The study, published in the October issue of the journal PAIN, revealed the volunteers rated the patients associated with negative traits, such as "arrogant" as less likeable than patients associated with more neutral traits, such as "reserved" or "conventional." Those associated with the neutral traits, however, were considered less likeable than those who were assigned positive qualities, such as "honest" or "friendly."

Moreover, the researchers found volunteers were less sympathetic to the pain of the patients they did not like. The participants also discounted the discomfort of disliked patients expressing high-intensity pain, evaluating their pain as less intense than that of the likable patients expressing high-intensity pain. Among the disliked patients, the researchers added, the study participants were less able to differentiate between various levels of pain.

"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," the authors said in a journal news release.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health provides more information on pain.

Mary Elizabeth Dallas SOURCE: Elsevier Health Sciences Journals, news release, Oct. 3, 2011

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