Racial Bias in the Perception of Asian Americans' Pain: Considering Potential Causes, Mechanisms, and Consequences

Ng, Brandon, Psychology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Trawalter, Sophie, Frank Batten School of Leadership & Public Policy, University of Virginia

Immense healthcare disparities exist between Whites and racial minority group members in the United States, but almost no work has focused on disparities between Whites and Asian Americans. Existing research provides some evidence for disparities between Asians and Whites in diagnosis and treatment with regard to mental and physical health, but the work that has explored Asian-White disparities has primarily focused on patient-related factors, and has not explored the role racial bias may play. My dissertation aims to address this gap in the literature by investigating racial bias in the perception of Asian Americans’ pain. Studies 1 and 2 demonstrate that White Americans assume that Asians feel less pain and face greater adversity than do Whites. I reason this is because, in the absence of prior information, Whites assume that Asians are “perpetual foreigners,” and thus lower status, which leads to underestimating their pain. Study 3 demonstrates a reversal of the bias; I reason this is because, given the provided information, Whites in this study assumed the Asian targets were “model minorities” rather than “perpetual foreigners”; they assumed the Asian targets had high status, leading them to overestimate their pain. In Study 4, I directly test this hypothesis by examining whether information relating to target status and/or hardship moderates the Asian-White racial bias in pain perception—namely, whether information consistent with the perpetual foreigner stereotype leads to perceptions that Asians feel less pain relative to Whites, and whether information consistent with the model minority stereotype leads to perceptions that Asians feel more pain relative to Whites. Taken together, my dissertation documents a novel racial bias in pain perception toward Asian Americans—one that is intricately tied to the divergent, albeit coexisting, stereotypes surrounding Asians in the United States. I conclude by discussing the implications of this bias for large-scale disparities in healthcare between Asians and Whites.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
pain, racial bias, Asian, model minority, perpetual foreigner, health disparities
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