Racial bias in sport medical staff’s perceptions of others’ pain

Unequal treatment based on race is well documented in higher education and healthcare settings. In the present work, we examine racial bias at the intersection of these domains: racial bias in pain-related perceptions among National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division 1 sport medical staff. Using experimental vignettes about a student-athlete who injured his/her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), we find, like prior work, that respondents perceived Black (vs. White) targets as having higher initial pain tolerance. Moreover, this bias was mediated by perceptions of social class. We extend prior work by showing racial bias was not evident on other outcome measures, including perception of recovery process pain, likelihood of over-reporting pain, and over-use of drugs to combat pain. This suggests stricter boundary conditions on bias in pain perceptions than had been previously recognized.