Ethnic Differences in Pain Perception Through Vagal Nociceptive Networks

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The Ohio State University

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Individual differences in pain perception have been well documented to factors such as age, gender, culture and ethnicity. As the response to nociceptive stimuli involves activation of the sympathetic nervous system, physiological measures are used to observe changes in neural activity associated with pain perception and the autonomic nervous system. While research on ethnic differences in pain perception have been investigated through various psychophysiological measures, underlying mechanisms through vagally mediated pathways, specifically indexed by vmHRV, have not been thoroughly investigated. The current study aims to investigate the situation in a sample of healthy undergraduate students of various ethnicities. Participants completed a full psychological evaluation and basic health questionnaires prior to starting the experiment. Physiological data was recorded throughout the experiment. A 5-minute baseline period was measured with the participant’s right hand on a thermal plate at 36˚ C. Afterwards, the temperature was raised at a controlled rate up to 52˚C. Participant’s pain threshold and tolerance was recorded at their respective temperatures and time after onset of increasing temperature. Results indicate European Americans (EAs) and Non European Americans (non-EAs) differ in pain threshold (p = .041, r = .25) and tolerance (p = .035, r = .26) in respect to temperature. EAs and Non EAs also differ in pain threshold (p = .037, r = .26) and marginally for tolerance (p = .061, r = .23), in respect to time. No differences in between EAs and Non EAs for vmHRV were observed. Moreover, regardless of ethnicity, changes in vmHRV from baseline to after the painful stressor, were marginally associated with pain tolerance (r(61) = -.238, p = .060). In addition to determine how different ethnicities differ in pain perception – possibly as a result of different ethnicity related stressors - the current study looks at how differences in autonomic regulatory systems and vagal-nociceptive network is an underlying mechanism for these differences.



Ethnic Differences, Pain, Heart Rate Variability, Autonomic Nervous System