A new study published by the University of Virginia has found a startling way that racial bias affects African-Americans: some medical students believe that black people feel less pain than white people, and it affects how they would treat patients.
“A substantial number of white laypeople and medical students and residents hold false beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites, and demonstrates that these beliefs predict racial bias in pain perception and treatment recommendation accuracy,” the report says.
Kelly M. Hoffman, a sixth-year doctoral candidate (ABD) in the social psychology program at the University of Virginia, ran the experiment by asking 222 white medical students to rate pain on a scale from 1 to 10 for two mock issues- a kidney stone and leg fracture, and then for both a black patient and white patient “to recommend pain treatments based on the level of pain they thought the patients might be experiencing.”
A larger survey asked 400 medical students of different races to rate whether or not they believed certain racial myths to be true, such as “black people age slower than white people.”
More than 100 students across racial lines believed the myths were indeed facts. But on average there was a correlation between the white students with false beliefs and their belief that blacks feel less pain. The study also found that those who believed in false biological differences between black and white people rated the black patients’ pain lower than they did the white patients’.
“If you’re really dedicated to science, that makes no sense,” Dr. David Satin, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School told STATnews.com. “Even if race is biological, that makes no sense. I’m disturbed by the fact that so many people endorse that.”
“Our study provides some insight to what might contribute to (disparities between races) – false beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites,” Hoffman told USA Today. “The good news is that individuals who do not endorse these false beliefs do not show any evidence of racial bias in treatment recommendations. Future work will need to test whether challenging these beliefs could lead to better treatment and outcomes for black patients.”