The current study examines how subjective pain reporting is influenced by the concordant and discordant nature of the ethnic identities of pain expressers (participants) and pain assessors (experimenters). Three discomfort conditions that varied in stimuli intensity (Study 1: mild pain; Study 2: severe pain), and distraction components (Study 3) were used to assess whether pain intensity and tolerance reporting differ with the ethnic identification of the participant and the experimenter. Specifically, 87 Hispanic and 74 Non-Hispanic White (NHW) women (18–51 yrs., Mage = 20.0, SD = 4.3) underwent a cold pressor pain task (CPT) after engaging in minimal procedural interactions with one of the 22 research experimenters (47% Hispanic, 42% females). The procedural interactions with the experimenters included only consenting and instructions, with no interaction between experimenter and participant during the actual CPT. Random-effects models showed that between the 0% and 18% of the variance in pain sensitivity (intensity and tolerance scores) was attributable to characteristics of the experimenters. Controlling for self-esteem, baseline pain levels, and the gender of the experimenter, Hispanic subjects showed higher pain sensitivity (as marked by lower pain tolerance and higher pain intensity scores) following interactions with an NHW rather than a Hispanic experimenter in response to the most severe pain intensity stimuli. These results question the validity of common findings of ethnic differences in pain sensitivity from studies that have not accounted for the ethnic identity of the pain assessor (and the general communicative nature of pain reporting).

Keywords: Pain, Ethnicity, Social context, Pain measurement, Audience effects.
Fulltext HTML PDF ePub