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Scandinavian Journal of Pain

Official Journal of the Scandinavian Association for the Study of Pain

Editor-in-Chief: Breivik, Harald

4 Issues per year

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Volume 18, Issue 3

An experimental investigation of the relationships among race, prayer, and pain

Samantha M. Meints
  • Corresponding author
  • Department of Psychology, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, Indianapolis, IN, USA
  • Orthopaedic and Arthritis Center for Outcomes Research, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, 60 Fenwood Road, BTM Ste. 5016, Boston, MA 02115, USA, Phone: (857) 307-5405, Fax: (617) 525-7900
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  • Other articles by this author:
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/ Catherine Mosher
  • Department of Psychology, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, Indianapolis, IN, USA
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/ Kevin L. Rand
  • Department of Psychology, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, Indianapolis, IN, USA
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  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
/ Leslie Ashburn-Nardo
  • Department of Psychology, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, Indianapolis, IN, USA
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  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
/ Adam T. Hirsh
  • Department of Psychology, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, Indianapolis, IN, USA
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  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
Published Online: 2018-05-03 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/sjpain-2018-0040


Background and aims

Compared to White individuals, Black individuals demonstrate a lower pain tolerance. Research suggests that differences in pain coping strategies, such as prayer, may mediate this race difference. However, previous research has been cross-sectional and has not determined whether prayer in and of itself or rather the passive nature of prayer is driving the effects on pain tolerance. The aim of this study was to clarify the relationships among race, prayer (both active and passive), and pain tolerance.


We randomly assigned 208 pain-free participants (47% Black, 53% White) to one of three groups: active prayer (“God, help me endure the pain”), passive prayer (“God, take the pain away”), or no prayer (“The sky is blue”). Participants first completed a series of questionnaires including the Duke University Religion Index, the Coping Strategies Questionnaire-Revised (CSQ-R), and the Pain Catastrophizing Scale. Participants were then instructed to repeat a specified prayer or distractor coping statement while undergoing a cold pressor task. Cold pain tolerance was measured by the number of seconds that had elapsed while the participant’s hand remained in the cold water bath (maximum 180 s).


Results of independent samples t-tests indicated that Black participants scored higher on the CSQ-R prayer/hoping subscale. However, there were no race differences among other coping strategies, religiosity, or catastrophizing. Results of a 2 (Race: White vs. Black)×3 (Prayer: active vs. passive vs. no prayer) ANCOVA controlling for a general tendency to pray and catastrophizing in response to prayer indicated a main effect of prayer that approached significance (p=0.06). Pairwise comparisons indicated that those in the active prayer condition demonstrated greater pain tolerance than those in the passive (p=0.06) and no prayer (p=0.03) conditions. Those in the passive and no prayer distractor conditions did not significantly differ (p=0.70). There was also a trending main effect of race [p=0.08], with White participants demonstrating greater pain tolerance than Black participants.


Taken together, these results indicate that Black participants demonstrated a lower pain tolerance than White participants, and those in the active prayer condition demonstrated greater tolerance than those in the passive and no prayer conditions. Furthermore, Black participants in the passive prayer group demonstrated the lowest pain tolerance, while White participants in the active prayer group exhibited the greatest tolerance. Results of this study suggest that passive prayer, like other passive coping strategies, may be related to lower pain tolerance and thus poorer pain outcomes, perhaps especially for Black individuals. On the other hand, results suggest active prayer is associated with greater pain tolerance, especially for White individuals.


These results suggest that understanding the influence of prayer on pain may require differentiation between active versus passive prayer strategies. Like other active coping strategies for pain, active prayer may facilitate self-management of pain and thus enhance pain outcomes independent of race. Psychosocial interventions may help religiously-oriented individuals, regardless of race, cultivate a more active style of prayer to improve their quality of life.

Keywords: pain; prayer; race; ethnicity; QST; coping


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About the article

Received: 2018-02-16

Revised: 2018-03-27

Accepted: 2018-03-30

Published Online: 2018-05-03

Published in Print: 2018-07-26

Authors’ statements

Research funding: This work was funded by a graduate student research award from the Department of Psychology at Indiana University) Purdue University Indianapolis and the National Institutes of health under award number T32 AR055885.

Conflict of interest: The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest regarding the publication of this article.

Informed consent: All participants provided written informed consent prior to participation in the research study.

Ethical approval: This study was approved by the Institutional Review Board at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Citation Information: Scandinavian Journal of Pain, Volume 18, Issue 3, Pages 545–553, ISSN (Online) 1877-8879, ISSN (Print) 1877-8860, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/sjpain-2018-0040.

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