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Answering Hoffman et al’s 15-Question Questionnaire

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Hoffman et al (2016) questioned laypeople and medical students and residents on a 15-question questionnaire regarding different beliefs people have about racial differences. The point of the questionnaire was to ascertain how people are biased in regard to racial differences in pain and how the bias affects the treatment the individual of the certain racial group. Only two of the questions had anything to do with pain. In this article, I will answer the questions one by one.

The 15 questions are in the Supporting Information for Hoffman et al (2016). The questions (and my responses) are as follows.

1. On average, Blacks age more slowly than Whites.

This one is true (though they rate this question as false). I don’t know why, though, because there are differences between black and white skin and these differences affect the rate of aging between races.

Campiche et al (2019) found that there is a difference in aging regarding skin in different ethnies (the cohorts were French and Mauritanian). The average age was 46 for the French and 56 foe the Mauritanians, and the Mauritanians still looked younger! Campiche et al (2019) write:

The difference in age between our Caucasian and Black African cohorts (median age 46 years vs 56 years) could bring into question the comparisons of the two cohorts. Nevertheless, we mostly found that Caucasians displayed more severe signs of aging than Black Africans which is in line with the common understanding that the onset of aging in fair skin starts earlier than in darkly pigmented skin and that there were differences in the appearance of lip lines and facial pores.

This question is true, contrary to the claims of Hoffman et al (2016).

2. Black people’s nerve-endings are less sensitive than White people’s nerve-endings.

I can find no literature on this matter and the only articles point me to Hoffman et al (2016) and different articles on the matter. I accept the claim as false.

3. Black people’s blood coagulates more quickly–because of that, Blacks have a lower rate of hemophilia than Whites.

Blacks’ blood does clot faster than whites, and part of the cause is differences in the PAR4 gene family (Bray et al, 2013). The reason that blacks’ blood clots faster than whites’ is due to the effects of thrombin, an enzyme that activates the molecule responsible for blood clotting. Blacks do have a lower rate of hemophilia than whites, though, but not by much (13.2 cases/100,000 for whites compared to 11 for blacks) (Soucie, Evatt, and Jackson, 1998). The question is true, contra Hoffman et al (2016).

4. Whites, on average, have larger brains than Blacks.

They stated that this question is false, which is bizarre. I am aware of no literature that attests to the claim that whites do not have larger brains than blacks. Many analyses back the claim that whites have larger brains than blacks (though Nisbett disagrees and states that there are studies that show the contrary but does not leave a citation) (Rushton, 1997). (Though see Race and Brain Size: Blacks Have Bigger Brains for an alternate view.)

5. Whites are less susceptible to heart disease like hypertension than Blacks.

They say this claim is true. And it is. Hypertension (high blood pressure) is a physiological variable which means that social environment can greatly affect it (Williams, 1992). Higher rates of obesity drive this association as well. American blacks have a lower rate of CHD than whites (7.2 compared to 7.8) but this is reversed for women (7.0 compared to 4.6) (Leigh, Alvarez, and Rodriguez, 2016). The CDC, though, says that the rate of heart disease is the same between blacks and whites, at 23.8 percent though (slightly higher than the 23.5 percent average).

6. Blacks are less likely to contract spinal cord diseases like multiple sclerosis.

They say that this claim is false, and it seems that it is (Langer-Gould et al, 2013). Though Marrie et al (2006) state that blacks experience greater MS disability than whites.

7. Whites have a better sense of hearing compared with Blacks.

They state that this claim is false. Pratt et al (2009) state that hearing loss is more likely to occur in white over black elderly patients.

8. Black people’s skin has more collagen (i.e., it’s thicker) than White people’s skin.

They state that this claim is false, and it is. That there is no difference in skin thickness between blacks and whites is irrelevant, though. Black skin is more compact, with greater intercellular cohesion (LaRuche and Cesarini, 1992; Rawlings, 2006).

9. Blacks, on average, have denser, stronger bones than Whites.

They state that this claim is true, and it is (Wagner and Heyward, 2000; Hocheberg, 2007).

10. Blacks have a more sensitive sense of smell than Whites; they can differentiate odors and detect faint smells better than Whites.

This claim is false, according to Hofmann et al. And I can find nothing in the literature on the matter so I will accept their claim.

11. Whites have more efficient respiratory systems than Blacks.

They state that this claim is false. However, Schwartz et al (1988) state that “Controlling for sex, age, standing height, and body mass index, blacks had consistently lower levels of lung function for most measures.” This claim seems to be true.

12. Black couples are significantly more fertile than White couples.

They state this claim is false. Wellons et al (2008) state that “black women were more likely to have experienced infertility.” So the claim is in the opposite of what Hoffman et al question.

13. Whites are less likely to have a stroke than Blacks.

They state that this claim is true, and it is. Minorities are more likely to have a stroke than whites. Brevata et al (2005) write that blacks are more likely to have severe strokes than whites. The claim is true.

14. Blacks are better at detecting movement than Whites.

This seems like a bizarre claim. They state that it is false and I will accept it as false since I can find no literature on the matter.

15. Blacks have stronger immune systems than Whites and are less likely to contract colds.

Europeans and Africans have different immune systems. The immune system of black Americans is stronger than whites’. Twenty-four hours after being infected with salmonella and listeria bacteria, researchers found that the white blood cells from black Americans responded quicker than that of the white blood cells from white Americans. The white blood cells from black Americans ridded the infection about three times quicker than the white blood cells from black Americans. They stated that this claim is false, but it appears to be true.

So, by my count, out of the 15 questions asked, 8 of them have a factual basis (with some in the opposite direction), compared to Hoffman et al’s (2016) assertion that only 4 of them are true. In any case, there are a lot of myths about racial differences out there, and some of these questions by Hoffman et al are myths. Though some of them do have a factual basis. I wonder what kind of literature they referred to when asking these questions, because the literature that I am aware of when it comes to some of these matters is different compared to what Hoffman et al (2016) claim. Racial/ethnic differences do, obviously, exist but there are many myths involved with them.

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2 Comments

  1. Phil78 says:

    This and your last two articles are great.

    As for the aging question, I would argue that by itself it is ambiguous. It would be true if we meant “indicators” of aging. If we meant actual development cycles, then it would be either no or yes in the case of puberty based on menarche.

    It would depend on what we mean by colloquial “aging” and scientific terms of human development.

    Like

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