Do Black Children Feel Less Pain Than White Children

By Jasmine Evans

Photo by Shutterstock

Starting at around 7 years of age, American children believe that Black kids feel less pain than their white counterparts, according to a recent study from the British Journal of Developmental Psychology.

For the study, researchers asked 5-, 7- and 10-year-olds, who were mostly white, to rate the amount of pain they would feel in 10 situations, including biting their tongues or hitting their heads. Then the children rated the amount of pain they believed two other children, a Black child and a white child, would feel in response to the same incidents. At 5 years old, a racial bias related to pain did not show up in the researchers’ findings. But the bias was clearly present in the 7-year-olds, and it was even stronger in the 10-year-olds.

Other kinds of racial biases pop up around this age, according to Rebecca Dore, a researcher at the University of Virginia who is also the study’s lead investigator. For instance, young children tend to want to play with other children of their own race. But these biases tend to fade over time. In contrast, the racial bias in perception of pain increases over time.

According to a report on how young children learn about race by Erin Winkler of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, there’s a myth that children cannot develop racial prejudices until they are taught to do so. But current psychological research suggests that children recognize race and develop racial biases on their own by ages 3 to 5. Furthermore, children’s racial beliefs are not absolutely tied to their parents’ or those of other close family members. The report emphasizes the need to talk about race with children at an early age.

Part of the importance of the University of Virginia study is that it shows definitively that racial bias in perception of pain does exist by age 7 and is stronger by age 10. This can help parents and teachers know when to intervene to try to prevent these biases from emerging. Dore said in an interview with UVA Today that intervention needs to happen at the latest by age 10 but preferably much earlier.

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