Effects of Language Context and Cultural Identity on the Pain Experience of Spanish–English Bilinguals

Morgan Gianola, Maria M. Llabre, Elizabeth A.Reynolds Losin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)112-127
Number of pages16
JournalAffective Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Social Psychology

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