Racial disparities in observers' attention to and estimations of others' pain

Ama Kissi*, Dimitri M L Van Ryckeghem, Peter Mende-Siedlecki, Adam Hirsh, Tine Vervoort

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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ABSTRACT: Research has demonstrated racial disparities in pain care such that Black patients often receive poorer pain care than White patients. Little is known about mechanisms accounting for the emergence of such disparities. The present study had 2 aims. First, we examined whether White observers' attentional processing of pain (using a visual search task [VST] indexing attentional engagement to and attentional disengagement from pain) and estimation of pain experience differed between White vs Black faces. Second, we examined whether these differences were moderated by (1) racially biased beliefs about pain experience and (2) the level of pain expressed by Black vs White faces. Participants consisted of 102 observers (87 females) who performed a VST assessing pain-related attention to White vs Black avatar pain faces. Participants also reported on racially biased beliefs about White vs Black individuals' pain experience and rated the pain intensities expressed by White and Black avatar faces. Results indicated facilitated attentional engagement towards Black (vs White) pain faces. Furthermore, observers who more strongly endorsed the belief that White individuals experience pain more easily than Black individuals had less difficulty disengaging from Black (vs White) pain faces. Regarding pain estimations, observers gave higher pain ratings to Black (vs White) faces expressing high pain and White (vs Black) faces expressing no pain. The current findings attest to the importance of future research into the role of observer attentional processing of sufferers' pain in understanding racial disparities in pain care. Theoretical and clinical implications are discussed, and future research directions are outlined.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)745-752
Number of pages8
Issue number4
Early online date29 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022


  • Pain
  • Attention
  • Estimation
  • Observer bias
  • Race
  • RACE
  • BIAS

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