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Comparing the Experiential and Psychosocial Dimensions of Chronic Pain in African Americans and Caucasians: Findings from a National Community Sample


Reprint requests to: Paul Karoly, PhD, Department of Psychology, Arizona State University, Box 871104, Tempe, AZ 85287-1104, USA. Tel: 480-965-5405; Fax: 480-965-8544; E-mail:


Objectives.  To ascertain whether non-Hispanic African American and Caucasian chronic pain sufferers differ or converge in their self-reports of pain experience and pain adjustment.

Research Design.  A telephone survey of U.S. English-speaking adults selected via random-digit dialing procedures and constrained to locate persons with chronic pain within selected gender by age groupings.

Subjects.  A national sample of 2,407 participants contained a total of 214 non-Hispanic African Americans. A sample of 214 non-Hispanic Caucasians was randomly selected from the larger set of 1,935 Caucasian participants to serve as a comparison group for the present study.

Measures.  Participants provided responses to interviewer questions that assessed pain experience (severity, interference, and emotional burden) and psychosocial outcomes (coping, attitudes and beliefs, catastrophizing, social support and hindrance, pain's interference with daily life activities, treatment status, and medication taking).

Results.  Although African American and Caucasian adults with chronic pain did not differ significantly in pain severity, interference, emotional burden, or current treatment status, multivariate analyses revealed differences in several domains of psychosocial functioning. Compared to Caucasians, African Americans reported greater pain-related interference with daily living, deficiencies in coping, and counterproductive attitudes and beliefs. African Americans also reported greater impatience and insensitivity from the most important person in their lives.

Conclusions.  Psychosocial dimensions of chronic pain differed between community-residing African American and Caucasian adults surveyed as part of a national sample.