Ethnicity and pain

I found this amusing:
Zborowski (1952) compared attitudes towards pain in three cultural groups from New York City by interviewing patients, doctors, nurses and other health professionals, as well as some healthy individuals from each of the cultural groups. The cultural groups were Italian-Americans, Jewish-Americans and Old-Americans.

Italians were preoccupied with the sensation of pain and complained a great deal while they were in pain with moaning and crying, but once the pain was treated they resumed their normal activiites.

On the other hand, Jewish patients were also very emotional when in pain and tended to exaggerate pain symptoms. However, they worried more about the effect of the pain on their health and the overall welfare of their families than about the pain itself. At times, they had difficulty resuming their normal activities because of a preoccupation with the underlying cause of their pain.

The Old-American patients were more detached in their response to pain and they were more concerned with not bothering anyone. [. . .]

Zborowski (1952) believed that attitudes towards pain are part of any culture's child-rearing practices. He found that both Jewish-American and Italian-American parents in his study were generally overprotective and overly concerned about their child's health and their children were frequently reminded to avoid fights, possible injuries and catching colds. Crying elicited considerable sympathy.

However, Old-American parents were less concerned and expected that the child would not run to the parent with a small problem. Children were taught to anticipate some pain while playing and they were expected not to show excessive distress.

[Pain. Jenny Strong, Anita M. Unruh, Anthony Wright, G. David Baxter, Patrick D. (FRW) Wall]
(Via Mangan.)


David Smith said...

No surprises here.

TGGP said...

Just came across an especially funny attempt to blame everything on WASPs. This time it's Hollywood via the Ivy Leagues!

Silver said...

The ideal would be a synthesis of interest in the underlying causes with insouciance and grit.

n/a said...


I too was shocked to find out Hollywood is swarming with Harvard WASPs such as Mike Reiss (who those less perceptive than "Whiskey" might mistake for a walking Jewish caricature), Conan O'Brien, and Tina Fey. I enjoyed this response from an isteve poster:

"testing99 is awesome. WASPs from Harvard. Fur coats. Penants. Awesome.

There's Hollywood the movie, which is what testing99 is talking about, and Hollywood the reality, which Joel Stein and everybody else I know talks about. Man, this guy sure runs some loopy charades here. [. . .]

Okay, time to 23 skidoo and stuff a phone booth with my Harvard chums."

Whiskey/testing/neocon is definitely one of the stranger internet characters I've ever come across.


Sure, where the pain is real and where one can do something about it, but the Jewish pattern seems to at least border on psychosomaticism.

Unknown said...

The whole point of this study is that being part of different cultural groups shapes your response to pain and the way you seek help for your suffering. Zborowski concluded that the Jewish patients reacted to pain in that way as they were more concerned with the underlying cause of their pain. They were more vocal in their pain as they wanted to be sure the underlying problem was addressed.

The 'Old Americans' didn't exhibit pain because they subscribed to the Westernised biomedical view of the body and saw their pain as something they could trust their doctors to fix.

There is no question of somatisation, the results of this study were due to different cultural understandings of health and illness clashing. A lack of faith in an individual to cure you is understandable if they have differing views from you about how to treat illness.