Original Report| Volume 16, ISSUE 5, P491-497, May 2015

In Vivo Praying and Catastrophizing Mediate the Race Differences in Experimental Pain Sensitivity

Published:February 25, 2015DOI:


      • Black participants demonstrated a lower pain tolerance than whites.
      • Blacks engaged in more situation-specific catastrophizing and praying than whites.
      • Catastrophizing and praying mediate the race-pain relationship.
      • The indirect effect of praying was stronger than that of catastrophizing.


      Black individuals have a lower tolerance for experimental pain than white individuals. Black and white individuals also differ in their use of pain coping strategies, which may explain the race differences in pain sensitivity. We examined the extent to which situation-specific pain coping mediated black-white differences in pain sensitivity. We hypothesized that 1) black participants would demonstrate lower pain tolerance than white participants, 2) black participants would use different pain coping strategies than white participants, and 3) the differential use of these strategies would mediate the relationship between race and pain tolerance. Healthy college undergraduates (N = 190) participated in a cold pressor task and then completed the Coping Strategies Questionnaire–Revised to assess their situation-specific pain coping. Compared with white participants, black participants demonstrated lower pain tolerance, engaged in more situation-specific catastrophizing and praying, and ignored pain less frequently. Catastrophizing and praying were inversely related to pain tolerance and were significant mediators of the relationship between race and pain tolerance. The indirect effect of praying was stronger than that of catastrophizing. Race differences in pain sensitivity may be due, in part, to differences in the use of catastrophizing and praying as coping strategies. These results may help guide treatments addressing maladaptive pain coping.


      This study suggests that race differences in pain sensitivity may be due, in part, to the differential use of catastrophizing and praying strategies. Psychosocial treatments for pain should encourage patients to take an active role in their pain management.

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