University Study Finds a Racial Bias in Pain Perception Among Young Children

coverA new study led by psychologists at the University of Virginia found that children as young as 7 years old had developed a racial bias in pain perception, believing that Black children feel less pain that White children.

Researchers asked children to rate the severity of pain that they believed other children felt when they experienced events like bumping their head or having their hand slammed in a door. By age 7, the respondents tended to rate the perception of pain as less severe when shown a photograph of a Black child compared to the level of pain they perceived for White children.


The results show no bias among children at age 5. But by age 7 a racial bias was evident and this bias became even stronger at age 10.

Earlier research has shown adults tend to perceive Blacks feel less pain than Whites. The current research finds that this bias may have its roots in early childhood.

The research, “Children’s Racial Bias in Perceptions of Others’ Pain,” was published on the website of the British Journal of Developmental Psychology. It may be accessed here.

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  1. I haven’t yet read the study, but the thing that stands out in the story is that there is no mention of subject demographics. Consequently, the story sheds no light on whether a bias in pain perception is was to be universal, i.e., among children of all races, or found to be related to the race of the perceiver. It would be interesting, for example, to see whether Black children, who would presumably more easily empathize with Black pain suffers, share this bias.

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