Racial bias in pain assessment and treatment recommendations, and false beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites Apr 04, 2016 By Sophie TrawalterKelly M. HoffmanJordan R. AxtM. Norman Oliver Racial bias in pain assessment and treatment recommendations, and false beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites Black Americans are systematically undertreated for pain relative to white Americans. We examine whether this racial bias is related to false beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites (e.g., “black people’s skin is thicker than white people’s skin”). Study 1 documented these beliefs among white laypersons and revealed that participants who more strongly endorsed false beliefs about biological differences reported lower pain ratings for a black (vs. white) target. Study 2 extended these findings to the medical context and found that half of a sample of white medical students and residents endorsed these beliefs. Moreover, participants who endorsed these beliefs rated the black (vs. white) patient’s pain as lower and made less accurate treatment recommendations. Participants who did not endorse these beliefs rated the black (vs. white) patient’s pain as higher, but showed no bias in treatment recommendations. These findings suggest that individuals with at least some medical training hold and may use false beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites to inform medical judgments, which may contribute to racial disparities in pain assessment and treatment. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America Areas of focus Social Psychology Racial Justice and Equity Research and Commentary Sophie Trawalter I’m an Associate Professor of Public Policy and Psychology. I study phenomena related to social diversity. Specifically, I examine how people navigate intergroup contact and intergroup contexts. I am especially interested in how people develop competencies and learn to thrive in diverse spaces. Read full bio Kelly M. Hoffman Jordan R. Axt M. Norman Oliver Related Content Sophie Trawalter False beliefs are associated with racial bias in pain assessment and treatment recommendations only among White (not among non-White) medical students and residents Research What Lies Beneath? Minority Group Members’ Suspicion of Whites’ Egalitarian Motivation Predicts Responses to Whites’ Smiles Research Antiprejudice norms and attempts to conceal racial bias have made Whites’ positive treatment of racial minorities attributionally ambiguous. Although some minorities believe Whites’ positivity is genuine, others are suspicious of Whites’ motives and believe their kindness is primarily motivated by desires to avoid appearing prejudiced. Black Americans are Systematically Under-Treated for Pain. Why? News When it comes to the healthcare you receive, the color of your skin can make a significant difference, social psychologist Sophie Trawalter told an online audience last week. Alum in Action: Kathryn Babineau News Batten alum Kathryn Babineau (MPP ’13) is a Ph.D. student in the University of Virginia's sociology department, where she studies globalization, labor rights, and public and private regulation. Previously, she worked as a human rights investigator for the Fair Food Standards Council and as a research coordinator at National Defense University.