Black racial phenotypicality shapes social pain and support judgments

Jason C. Deska, Jonathan W. Kunstman, Michael J. Bernstein, Tejumola Ogungbadero, Kurt Hugenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Social pain, defined as responses to aversive interpersonal experiences (e.g., ostracism, unfairness, disrespect), has profound effects on health and well-being. Yet, research indicates that race biases judgments of social pain, leading people to believe that Black individuals experience less social pain than White individuals. The current work extends this research, testing whether characteristics associated with Black racial phenotypicality shapes this social pain effect. Five studies tested the hypothesis that people would judge targets high in Black racial phenotypicality as less sensitive to social pain and consequently requiring fewer coping resources than targets low in racial phenotypicality. The results of these studies reveals a consistent effect of Black racial phenotypicality on social pain judgments (Studies 1–5; Ncumulative = 1064). Moreover, this phenotypicality effect shaped judgments of social pain for both Black and White targets, suggesting effects are driven by stereotype-related characteristics rather than activation of the Black racial category. Study 3 links this bias with judgments of toughness independent of other plausible mechanisms and Studies 4–5 provide evidence that phenotypic biases in social pain undermine social support judgments. Perceivers believed Black individuals high in phenotypicality experienced less social pain and, consequently, required fewer coping resources to manage distress compared to individuals low in Black phenotypicality. These results provide evidence for a target-level bias in social pain judgments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103998
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
StatePublished - Sep 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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