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Biopsychosocial Factors That Shape the Acute Physical Pain Experience: The Role of Simpatía


How do cultural values influence individual responses to stress in the context of experimentally-induced pain? A substantial literature has found ethnic differences in pain whereby ethnic minority groups (e.g., Latinos) report experiencing more pain and less willingness to endure pain during standardized pain tasks in the laboratory setting. However, little is known about the role Latino culture plays in the context of this type of pain. The goals of this dissertation were to examine simpatía, a Latino cultural value emphasizing reduced negative expressions during negative interactions and increased positive expressions during positive interactions, in the context of experimentally-induced pain. Specifically, this dissertation examined 1) whether simpatía was associated with pain (measured via self-report, tolerance, and physiological response) and 2) whether state emotions, emotional expressions, or vagal tone explained the association of simpatía with pain in Latinos. Additionally, this dissertation explored the role ethnic background played in this context as well. To induce pain, a standardized cold pressor task was used with water held at five degrees Celsius. Results indicated that, contrary to hypotheses linking simpatía to improved pain through its association with positive emotion, simpatía was instead associated with worse pain. Specifically, Latinos high in simpatía self-reported greater pain, were more likely to withdraw early from pain, and exhibited a flatter heart rate recovery slope compared with Latinos low in simpatía. However, no mediator significantly explained the simpatía-pain association and this association did not hold in European Americans. Taken together, the findings of this dissertation provide evidence for the importance of context in examining the influence of cultural values on the experience of acute physical pain.

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