Michael Jackson was wrong: It does matter if you're black or white, at least in terms of pain.
In a recent study in Psychosomatic Medicine, white chronic pain patients reported less severe disabling pain and withstood more pain and for longer intervals than blacks, confirming previous findings in which blacks described greater sensitivity to pain and more discomfort from conditions like arthritis and headache. Roger Fillingim, Ph.D., the study's co-author and a professor of psychology at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, suggests possible explanations for the disparity: Childhood exposure to different pain models may influence our perception of pain, or physiological differences may affect how we cope with it mentally and physically.
Lacking a definitive explanation, Fillingim believes the contrast is important and advises greater investigation into ethnic differences in pain. "Blacks are historically undertreated for pain," he says. "So if they feel more pain too, that's double jeopardy."