Racial Bias in Pain Perception

Racial Bias in Pain Perception

Psychology research explains how racial bias in pain perception might also apply to the latest series of non-indictments of police officers over the wrongful killing of Black Americans, including Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Psychology student Kelly Hoffman finds that the history of “super humanisation” of Black people still informs how White people see Black people. This history has its origins in justifications for slavery: White people thought that Black people were sub-human on the one hand, yet capable of back-breaking labour on the other hand. This view also informed medical procedures in the late 1800s, where Black salves were subjected to torturous surgeries without aesthetic. Most infamously is J. Marion Sims’s gynaecology experiments on Black women slaves who were operated on multiple times.

Speaking with NPR, Hoffman has conducted a series of experiments showing that White people still think that Black people are exceptionally stronger and able to withstand more pain than White people. Officer Darren Wilson, who fatally shot Michael Brown, said in his indictment hearing that Brown appeared “like a demon” and that he was like “Hulk Hogan.” This is despite the fact that both men have similar body types: Michael Brown was 6’5″, and weighed 289 pounds; Wilson is 6’4″ and weighs “210-ish” pounds to “213” pounds by his own admission. Brown was unarmed, standing outside on the street. Wilson was armed and inside his vehicle when he shot Brown as he ran away form the car. Regardless, plenty of tall White men are arrested without being killed, and the onus is on police to use their training to avoid using lethal force.

Hoffman notes that doctors are less likely to prescribe pain medication to Black patients when the same conditions lead to different treatment for White patients. Hoffman says: “this super-humanisation might suggest that one reason that they’re undertreated for pain is because people perceive them as having more strength and being less susceptible to pain. And the finding that Whites are more likely to tolerate police brutality against Blacks – and again, that might be because they think of them as super-human.”

Hoffman’s research: http://buff.ly/1CH8C4z

Image: http://buff.ly/1CH8CkM

My discussion of J. Marion Sims’ experiments: http://buff.ly/1CH8CkN #sociology