Posted on October 4, 2011

Asians Differ from Non-Hispanic Whites in Experimental Pain Sensitivity

Rowell LN et al., Pub Med, August 2011


This study examined differences between Asians and non-Hispanic Whites (Whites) in pain sensitivity, and its relationship to mean arterial pressure (MAP) and heart rate (HR). In 30 Whites (50% female) and 30 Asians (50% female), experimental pain sensitivity was assessed with a hand cold pressor task, yielding measures of pain threshold, tolerance, intensity, and unpleasantness. Mean arterial pressure and HR measurements taken at rest and in response to speech stress were assessed. Perceived stress, anxiety, perfectionism, parental criticism, parental expectations and depressive symptoms were also measured. The results indicated that for the cold pain test, Asians demonstrated significantly lower pain threshold and tolerance levels than Whites. Although no ethnic differences were seen for MAP or HR responses to stress, for Whites higher stress MAP levels were correlated with reduced pain sensitivity, while for Asians higher baseline and stress HR levels were correlated with reduced pain sensitivity. Asians reported higher parental expectations and greater parental criticism than Whites. For Asians only, higher levels of perfectionism were related to more depressive symptoms, anxiety and perceived stress. These results indicate that Asian Americans are more sensitive to experimental pain than Whites and suggest ethnic differences in endogenous pain regulatory mechanisms (e.g. MAP and HR). The results may also have implications for understanding ethnic differences in clinical pain.