Racial differences in pain treatment and empathy in a Canadian sample

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BACKGROUND: Evidence of inadequate pain treatment as a result of patient race has been extensively documented, yet remains poorly understood. Previous research has indicated that nonwhite patients are significantly more likely to be undertreated for pain. OBJECTIVE: To determine whether previous findings of racial biases in pain treatment recommendations and empathy are generalizable to a sample of Canadian observers and, if so, to determine whether empathy biases mediate the pain treatment disparity. METHODS: Fifty Canadian undergraduate students (24 men and 26 women) watched videos of black and white patients exhibiting facial expressions of pain. Participants provided pain treatment decisions and reported their feelings of empathy for each patient. RESULTS: Participants demonstrated both a prowhite treatment bias and a prowhite empathy bias, reporting more empathy for white patients than black patients and prescribing more pain treatment for white patients than black patients. Empathy was found to mediate the effect of race on pain treatment. CONCLUSIONS: The results of the present study closely replicate those from a previous study of American observers, providing evidence that a prowhite bias is not a peculiar feature of the American population. These results also add support to the claim that empathy plays a crucial role in racial pain treatment disparity. © 2012 Pulsus Group Inc.

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