Purpose/objective: This experimental study investigated how physical attractiveness, disability cue, and diagnostic ambiguity stereotypes impact perceptions of a patient's pain/disability and personality.
Research method/design: After viewing photographs of women pictured with or without a cane, accompanied by descriptions of the women's diagnosis (fibromyalgia or rheumatoid arthritis), 147 university students rated the women's pain/disability and personality.
Results: Analyses revealed that more attractive women received lower ratings on pain/disability and higher ratings (more positive) on personality. Moreover, those pictured with a disability cue got higher ratings on both pain/disability and personality, and those with medical evidence of pathology (less ambiguity) got higher ratings on pain/disability and lower ratings on personality. Examination of the 3 stereotypes in a single study enabled an evaluation of their interactions. An Attractiveness × Disability Cue × Diagnostic Ambiguity interaction for ratings of pain/disability revealed that the presence of both medical evidence and a disability cue were needed to override the strong "beautiful is healthy" stereotype. Significant 2-way interactions for ratings of personality indicated that the impact of the disability stereotype tends to be overshadowed by the attractiveness stereotype.
Conclusion/implications: The results indicate that these stereotypes have a large effect on perceptions of women with chronic pain and that attractiveness, a contextual variable unrelated to the pain experience, exerts an even stronger effect when there is less objective information available. This could have clinical ramifications for assessment and treatment of patients with chronic pain, which often occurs in the absence of "objective" medical evidence or any external cues of disability.
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