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Racial Bias in Perceptions of Others’ Pain


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Principal Investigator(s):

Sophie Trawalter
University of Virginia
Email: strawalter@virginia.edu
Home page: http://www.batten.virginia.edu/content/faculty-research/faculty/sophie-trawalter

Sample size: 2000
Field period: 9/26/2011-11/29/2011

 

Abstract:

In the present study, we investigated whether people assume a priori that members of some minority groups feel less pain than do Whites. Participants estimated the amount of pain they would feel in various situations (e.g., slamming one's hand in a car door). Participants also saw a picture of a Black, Hispanic, Asian, or White target person and estimated the amount of pain s/he would feel in the same situations. Finally, participants rated their perceived similarity to the target person and the extent to which they perceived the target person to be privileged. Results were inconclusive. See Summary of Findings for a (very) brief discussion.

Hypotheses:

Do White people assume that Blacks feel less pain than do Whites?

Do people from other racial groups make the same assumption?

Do White people assume that individuals from other racial minority groups feel less pain than do Whites?

Do people from other racial groups also make this assumption?

Experimental Manipulations:

Target person race: Participants saw a Black, Hispanic, Asian, or White target person

Self/target order: Participants rated their own pain and the target person's pain; the order was counter-balanced.

Key Dependent Variables:

Pain ratings
Perceived similarity to the target person
Perceived privilege of the target person relative to the self

Summary of Findings:

Analyses yielded mixed evidence. Planned comparison were often marginal or non-significant. As predicted, White participants made (marginally) lower pain ratings for Black vs. White targets, but only when self-ratings came before target ratings. When target ratings came before self-ratings, White participants made (marginally) lower pain ratings for White vs. Black targets. Follow-up analyses suggest that White participants may have been reactant. White participants reported that they were most similar to the Black target and least similar to the White target, contrary to prediction and previous work both in our lab and others' lab. Moreover, White participants reported that Blacks were most privileged and White participants least privileged, again contrary to prediction and previous work both in our lab and others' lab.


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