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Pain decisions based on pain behavior of virtual humans

      Laypeople, healthcare trainees, and healthcare professionals use sex and race as cues when making pain management decisions. The use of these demographic cues in making pain management decisions may negatively affect patient outcomes. This study extended our work on the facial expression of pain to decisions about pain behavior and whether those decisions are influenced, at least in part, by demographic characteristics. The study was an online study that used novel virtual human (VH) technology to research whether VH-patients’ pain-related body posture affects pain decisions and whether VH-sex and VH-race influence those decisions. Ninety seven laypersons examined VH-patients whose demographic cues varied by VH-sex and VH-race. Results indicated that laypeople assessed male VH-patients to be experiencing more pain than female VH-patients. This study suggests that participants use sex as a cue when rating pain intensity. Male VH-patients were rated as having higher pain than female VH-patients. Higher pain ratings for male VH-patients, seem to indicate that the male VH must be in considerable pain if they are “overcoming” the well-established stereotypical male unwillingness to report pain. Unlike facial expression, postural pain behavior may be perceived as a more unbiased indicator of pain to observers. Interestingly, participants were not willing to prescribe opioid analgesics at different rates despite higher ratings of pain based on sex or race.