By Angela Pirisi, published on July 1, 2000 - last reviewed on January 23, 2015
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."