Virtual Perspective-Taking to Reduce Race and SES Disparities in Pain Care

The goal of this project is to understand and reduce disparities in pain treatment because of doctors’ implicit biases. Previous studies have shown significant differences in the pain treatment given to Black and low socio-economic (SES) patients in comparison with White and high SES patients. This project has developed virtual human interventions as a way to understand and combat these biases. One intervention consists of videos created with the Sims that reflect different scenes of a patient’s life, focusing specifically on how back pain has affected that patient’s life. Other work to understand pain treatment biases has used videos from Unity to show different kinds of patients demonstrating pain.

Funded By

National Institutes of Health

VERG Researchers

Stevie Carnell, Heng Yao


psychologists at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and University of Florida

Target Audience

Medical doctors and healthcare providers

Technology Used

Virtual People Factory (C#, Javascript), Unity, The Sims 3

Chat with one of our pain virtual patients



  • Hirsh AT, Miller MM, Hollingshead NA, Anastas T, Carnell ST, Lok BC, Chu C, Zhang Y, Robinson ME, Kroenke K, Ashburn-Nardo L. A randomized controlled trial testing a virtual perspective-taking intervention to reduce race and SES disparities in pain care. PAIN. in press. Editor’s Choice


  • Anastas, T., Miller, M., Hollingshead, N., Carnell, S., Lok, B., & Hirsh, A. (2018, September). Providers’ implicit and explicit attitudes about race and socioeconomic status influence their pain treatment recommendations. 17th World Congress on Pain, Boston, MA.
  • Clark, E., Anastas, T., Miller, M., Hollingshead, N., Carnell, S., Lok, B., & Hirsh, A. (2018, September). Compassion for patients mediates racial and socioeconomic differences in providers’ pain treatment decisions. 17th World Congress on Pain, Boston, MA.