The influence of patient sex, provider sex, and sexist attitudes on pain treatment decisions

Adam T. Hirsh, Nicole A. Hollingshead, Marianne S. Matthias, Matthew J. Bair, Kurt Kroenke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

30 Scopus citations


Research suggests that patient sex, provider sex, and providers' sexist attitudes interact to influence pain care; however, few empirical studies have examined these influences. We investigated sex (patient and provider) differences in pain treatment and the extent to which providers' sexist attitudes were associated with these differences. Ninety-eight health care providers (52% female) completed the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory and made treatment ratings for 16 computer-simulated patients with low back pain. Patient sex was balanced across vignettes. Results indicated that female patients received significantly higher antidepressant (F[1, 96] = 4.51, P <.05, ηp2 =.05) and mental health referral (F[1, 96] = 3.89, P =.05, ηp2 =.04) ratings than male patients, which is consistent with our hypotheses; however, these differences were significant only among female providers. Controlling for providers' sexism scores did not substantially alter these results, which is counter to our hypotheses. These results suggest that female providers are more likely to recommend psychosocial treatments for female than for male pain patients, and providers' sexist attitudes do not account for these differences. Research is needed to elucidate the contributors to sex/gender differences in treatment in order to reduce pain disparities. Perspective The results of this study suggest that patient and provider sex, but not providers' sexist attitudes, influence pain care. These findings may inform efforts to raise awareness of sex/gender differences in pain care and reduce disparities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)551-559
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Pain
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2014


  • decision making
  • Pain treatment
  • sex differences
  • sexist attitudes
  • virtual technology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Medicine(all)

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