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Proc (Bayl Univ Med Cent). 2002 Apr;15(2):143-5. doi: 10.1080/08998280.2002.11927832.

Cross-cultural conceptions of pain and pain control.

Proceedings (Baylor University. Medical Center)

Mary Moore Free


  1. Baylor University Medical Center, Dallas, Texas 75246, USA.

PMID: 16333427 PMCID: PMC1276504 DOI: 10.1080/08998280.2002.11927832


Pain is a ubiquitous feature of the human experience. This paper presents an anthropology of pain. Anthropology is defined as the cross-cultural and comparative study of human behavior. Pain can be acute and episodic, and pain can be constant and uninterrupted. Acute pain, lasting for minutes or hours, is reported at some time by virtually all adults and by most juveniles and is indicated by the cries and facial expressions of toddlers and infants. This universality of pain as a part of the human condition has been established by the research of many biological, physical, and social scientists. Ethnographers, physicians, and public health experts describe pain complaints for a variety of modern, industrial societies and traditional, undeveloped societies. Pain is the most frequent complaint brought to the offices of physicians in North America, and it is a focus of attention in the literate medical traditions of China, India, and Islamic cultures. Hence, the study of pain and the cultural perceptions of pain are prominent foci of anthropologists. Given that the goal of medicine is to offer medical care to all people who seek it, the practice of modern medicine may be assisted by an exploration of the possibility of cultural differences in medical beliefs and practices in the multiethnic and racially diverse patient populations today.


  1. Anesthesiology. 1971 Jan;34(1):50-9 - PubMed

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