While language and culture influence cognition, their role in shaping pain remains understudied. We tested whether language and cultural identification influence pain report among Spanish–English bilinguals. Eighty bilingual Hispanics/Latinos (40 female) experienced painful thermal stimulations, providing pain intensity and unpleasantness ratings, on separate English and Spanish testing days. Participants’ skin conductance responses (SCRs) during stimulations served as measures of physiological arousal. Bilingual participants showed larger SCRs and higher pain intensity when speaking the language congruent with their dominant cultural identification. That is, those endorsing more Hispanic cultural identification showed higher pain in Spanish, while US-American-dominant participants demonstrated increased pain in English. Follow-up moderated mediation demonstrated that SCRs mediated language effects on pain ratings for participants endorsing greater Hispanic cultural identification. Together, our results suggest language, cultural associations, and bodily arousal synergistically influence pain evaluations among bilingual people, potentially contributing to well-documented health disparities between Hispanic and non-Hispanic communities.
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The authors wish to thank Sofia Mercer, Beatriz Yepes, Efrain Rodriguez Sierra, and Felipe Parodi for their contributions to this research project. Without their efforts the collection of these data would not have been possible.
EL and ML provided guidance in the design of the experimental paradigm and significant input in the data analysis process. MG conducted the experimental procedure, compiled and analyzed the data, and wrote the manuscript with input and revision from EL and ML.
This research was supported by startup funds of Dr. Elizabeth Losin from the University of Miami.
Availability of Data and Materials
All data from this project will be made available on the Open Science Framework (OSF) by the end of 2020 (https://osf.io/5tw79/?view_only=d113177c1f244758a4361bca58de7802).
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.
All R codes will be made available on OSF (same link as above).
All procedures were approved by the University of Miami Institutional Review Board (Protocol #20180105).
Informed consent was obtained from all participants after a detailed study explanation in both English and Spanish.
Handling editor: Shigehiro Oishi
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Gianola, M., Llabre, M.M. & Losin, E.A.R. Effects of Language Context and Cultural Identity on the Pain Experience of Spanish–English Bilinguals. Affec Sci 2, 112–127 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s42761-020-00021-x