Findings Friday: by age 10, children think that black people feel less pain than white people

White USian adults tend to assume that black people feel less pain than they do in the same situation. To figure out where this begins, Dore, Hoffman, Lillard, and Tawalter (2014) interviewed children — 144 white children and 15 children of color. Their study asked 5-year-old, 7-year-old, and 10-year old kids to rate the pain they’d experience in 10 different scenarios, both for themselves and for another two children, one black and one white. The 5-year-olds didn’t have a racial bias in how they rated the pain, but the 7-year-olds had a small bias and the 10-year-olds had a significant bias.

To see if this pattern was still true when one controlled for overt racism, the researchers included three additional measurements: how often a child would choose to play with a black or a white child, how much difference a child used in assigning positive traits to black or white children, and a questionnaire of the parents to control for parental bias and interracial friendships. None of these had any significant effect on this trend.

Interestingly, all the children rated the pain of others as stronger than their own. My thoughts on this is that the exercise is one which involves taking the perspective of another person, which has been shown to increase empathy in significant and immediate ways.

Dore, R. A.; Hoffman, K. M.; Lillard, A. S.; and Trawalter, S. 2014. “Children’s racial bias in perceptions of others’ pain.” British Journal Of Developmental Psychology 32, no. 2: 218–231. Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed December 3, 2015).

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