White Ignorance in Pain Research: Racial Differences and Racial Disparities

Phoebe Friesen, Nada Gligorov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Racial disparities in pain treatment are well documented. Such disparities are explained with reference to factors related to providers, health care structures, and patient behaviors. Racial differences in pain experiences, although well documented, are less well understood. Explanations for such differences usually involve genetic or psychological factors. Here, we argue that racial differences in pain experiences might also be explained by disparities in pain treatment. Based on what we know about the nature of pain, particularly the cognitive and affective aspects of the phenomenon, it is likely that disparities in the treatment of racialized patients can lead to significant racial differences in pain experience that show up at the population level. We argue that the failure of research programs to consider this causal factor is an example of white ignorance. We also consider several implications of the link between racial disparities in pain treatment and racial differences in pain experience.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)205-235
Number of pages31
JournalKennedy Institute of Ethics Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2022


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