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Top Netflix titles present skewed version of adolescent pain, U of C research team finds

A new paper authored by University of Calgary Department of Psychology researchers found top Netflix shows watched by adolescents largely dismissed common sources of pain.

The research reviewed 10 movies and the first season of six shows from the trending and popular sections of the streaming giant, including   Spider-  Man: Homecoming,  Riverdale  and Stranger Things.  

“So then we had teens come in and endorse whether or not they’d seen that media before just so we could get a snapshot of what they’d seen,” said Allison Cormier, the first author of the paper.

“They’re not being shown in media, we’re not being shown these narratives of what they’re experiencing.”

The paper found that pain was overrepresented in Caucasian boys, while racialized youth were more likely to suffer violence.

Observers in the stories had more empathy and willingness to help boys than they were girls.

Chronic pain or pain from medical procedures or menstruation, for example, were largely absent according to the researchers.

“They’re seeing a lot of violence, not a lot of empathy and characters just sort of brushing their pain aside,” said Dr. Melanie Noel, a registered psychologist and professor of psychology at U of C.

She is also one of the authors of the paper.

“Sometimes these stories matter more than what they see in the real world, but they’re learning what to expect,” Noel says.

Researchers expressed concern that the depictions of pain and other’s reactions contribute to under-reporting of health concerns, as well as reduced support from peers in the real world.

The authors say one in five adolescents suffer some form of chronic pain, and they hope better depictions of both the source of pain and other’s reactions will improve medical outcomes and quality of life.

The paper was published in the peer-reviewed journal Pain on March 27.

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