The Role of Chronic Psychosocial Stress in Explaining Racial Differences in Stress Reactivity and Pain Sensitivity

Jennifer L. Gordon, Jacqueline Johnson, Samantha Nau, Beth Mechlin, Susan S. Girdler

Research output: Research - peer-reviewArticle

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Abstract

Objective To examine the role of psychosocial factors in mediating the relationship between African American (AA) race and both increased pain sensitivity and blunted stress reactivity. Methods Participants included 133 AA and non-Hispanic white (nHW) individuals (mean [SD] age, 37 [9]) matched for age, sex, and socioeconomic status. Participants underwent mental stress testing (Trier Social Stress Test) while cardiovascular, hemodynamic, and neuroendocrine reactivity were measured. Participants completed questionnaires assessing potential sources of psychosocial stress and were tested for pain responses to cold pain and the temporal summation of heat pulses. Mediation analyses were used to determine the extent to which exposure to psychosocial stress accounted for the observed racial differences in stress reactivity and pain. Results Chronic stress exposure and reactivity to mental stress was largely similar among AAs and nHWs; however, AAs exhibited heightened pain to both cold (p =.012) and heat (p =.004). Racial differences in the relationship between stress reactivity and pain were also observed: while greater stress reactivity was associated with decreased pain among nHWs, reactivity was either unrelated to or even positively associated with pain among AAs (e.g., r =-.21 among nHWs and r =.41 among AAs for stroke volume reactivity and cold pressor intensity). Adjusting for minor racial differences in chronic psychosocial stress did not change these findings. Conclusions Accounting for psychosocial factors eliminated racial differences in stress reactivity but not racial differences in sensitivity to experimental pain tasks. Increased exposure to chronic stress may not explain AAs' increased pain sensitivity in laboratory settings.

LanguageEnglish (US)
Pages201-212
Number of pages12
JournalPsychosomatic Medicine
Volume79
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017

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Pain
African Americans
Hot Temperature
Psychology
Exercise Test
Social Class
Stroke Volume
Hemodynamics
Surveys and Questionnaires

Keywords

  • African Americans
  • blood pressure
  • cortisol
  • norepinephrine
  • pain sensitivity
  • social factors
  • stress reactivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

Cite this

The Role of Chronic Psychosocial Stress in Explaining Racial Differences in Stress Reactivity and Pain Sensitivity. / Gordon, Jennifer L.; Johnson, Jacqueline; Nau, Samantha; Mechlin, Beth; Girdler, Susan S.

In: Psychosomatic Medicine, Vol. 79, No. 2, 01.02.2017, p. 201-212.

Research output: Research - peer-reviewArticle

Gordon, Jennifer L. ; Johnson, Jacqueline ; Nau, Samantha ; Mechlin, Beth ; Girdler, Susan S./ The Role of Chronic Psychosocial Stress in Explaining Racial Differences in Stress Reactivity and Pain Sensitivity. In: Psychosomatic Medicine. 2017 ; Vol. 79, No. 2. pp. 201-212
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