A UVA study found that white children as young as 7, and particularly by age 10, believe black children feel less pain than whites—potentially identifying the nexus point for future biases seen in adults.
The study, “Children’s racial bias in perceptions of others’ pain,” was published in the Feb. 28 issue of the British Journal of Developmental Psychology. The research asked children at ages 5, 7 and 10 how much pain they would feel if they bit their tongue, for example, then asked how much pain two other children—one white, one black—would feel in the same situation. The youngest showed no bias, but by age 7, the children said black children felt less pain. The results mirrored earlier studies conducted among adults.
“The data can inform the timing of adult intervention,” says Rebecca Dore, the study’s lead researcher and a UVA developmental psychology Ph.D. candidate. “If we want to prevent this bias from entering childhood, we have to address it by age 7 or age 10. Parents and teachers don’t often want to talk to young children because we think they aren’t recognizing race … By ignoring the fact that race is there, we’re doing a disservice to the children.”
Dore is currently conducting follow-up research to determine the source of the bias, and says she’d like to see her study replicated with a sample set of black children.