science

Long history of discrimination resulted in African Americans feeling more pain than whites


Long history of discrimination and slavery has resulted in African Americans feeling more pain than whites and Hispanics, study claims

  • Researchers examined the brains of 88 participants subjected to painful heat 
  • They found that African Americans were more sensitive to the inflicted pain
  • The area of their brains linked to discrimination also saw heightened activity 

Long history of discrimination and slavery has resulted in African Americas feeling more pain than whites and Hispanics, a new study claims. 

Researchers from Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand examined the brains of 88 Americans while subjecting them to painful levels of heat. 

During the study scientists found higher levels of activity in a section of the brain linked to discrimination and trust in the African-American participants.

The authors say this means they are more sensitive to pain, and the discrimination link points to a greater need for doctors to earn their patients’ trust.

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History of discrimination and slavery has resulted in African Americas feeling more pain than whites and Hispanics, a new study claims (stock image)

History of discrimination and slavery has resulted in African Americas feeling more pain than whites and Hispanics, a new study claims (stock image)

The team examined the brains of 28 African American, 30 White American and 30 Hispanic American participants using an functional MRI machine. 

As well as studying the brains, they analysed 19 sociocultural factors to understand the ethnic group differences in pain sensitivity.

It has been a common belief since the time of slavery in the USA that African Americans feel less pain than white Americans, the study authors said.

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‘This has led to the under-treatment of pain for African Americans and contributed to widespread racial and ethnic health disparities.’  

Of the three groups they studied, they found the ‘Neurologic Pain Signature’, a brain measure that tracks the intensity of physical pain, was largely similar.

However, African American participants reported more intense pain than others in the cohort, and that pain was linked to discrimination. 

The authors also found increased responses to physically painful stimuli in the frontostriatal brain circuit of African Americans, but not the other groups. 

African American participants reported more intense pain than others in the cohort, which was linked to discrimination (stock image)

African American participants reported more intense pain than others in the cohort, which was linked to discrimination (stock image)

Activity in this circuit was related to discrimination and trust. Previous studies have related activity in this circuit to non-physical aspects of pain.

This suggests that the higher levels of pain felt by African Americans may be linked, in part, to differences in non-physical pain systems in the brain.

‘This may in turn result from the long-term effects of negative social treatment,’ the study states.

The authors recommend interventions geared towards reducing discrimination and increasing clinician trust may help to mitigate ethnic disparities in pain.

The research has been published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.

WHAT IS A FUNCTIONAL MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGING (FMRI) SCAN?

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is one of the most recently developed forms of neuroimaging.

It measures the metabolic changes that occur within the brain, such as changes in blood flow.

Medical professionals may use fMRI to detect abnormalities within the brain that cannot be found with other imaging techniques, measure the effects of stroke or disease, or guide brain treatment.

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It can also be used to examine the brain’s anatomy and determine which parts of the brain are handling critical functions.

A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan uses a magnetic field rather than X-rays to take pictures of body. 

The MRI scanner is a hollow machine with a tube running horizontally through its middle. 

You lie on a bed that slides into the tube of the scanner.

Equipment used in fMRI scans uses the same technology, but is more compact and lightweight.

The main difference between a normal MRI scan and a fMRI scan is the results that can be obtained.

Whereas a normal MRI scan gives pictures of the structure of the brain, a functional MRI scan shows which parts of the brain are activated when certain tasks are carried out.

This includes language, memory and movement. 





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