Publication Date




Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Psychology (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Elizabeth R. Losin

Second Committee Member

Maria M. Llabre

Third Committee Member

Caleb D. Everett


Language and culture are integrally linked aspects of human experience known to influence bilingual individuals’ cognition across contexts. Pain, a subjective sensation shaped by social and cognitive forces, represents an ideal system for testing the impacts of language and cultural mindset on perception. In this Master’s thesis, I sought to disentangle the relative contributions of language and cultural context to pain perception among Spanish-English bilinguals. Bilingual participants experienced multiple types of painful thermal stimulations both before and after language-congruent cultural priming, on separate English and Spanish testing days. Different pain self-report ratings were sensitive to either language or cultural context in a manner moderated by bilinguals’ relative cultural dominance. Specifically, pain intensity ratings within Spanish-speaking contexts were elevated for participants endorsing greater identification with Hispanic culture relative to US-American culture. Thus, comparing ratings across languages, stimulations were rated more intense in the language context of bilinguals' more dominant culture; however, Hispanic cultural priming reversed this relationship for pain threshold and tolerance ratings. Across stimulation types, when participants had conscious control over stimulations, cultural priming appeared to affect motivation to withstand pain, whereas uncontrollable stimulations were rated as more intense when speaking the language of one’s dominant cultural perspective, regardless of cultural priming. Bilinguals reporting roughly equal identification with both cultures presented unaltered pain ratings across languages and cultural contexts. These findings have the potential to clarify mechanisms through which language and culture modulate pain, which may ultimately inform interventions to alleviate pain diagnosis and treatment disparities within Spanish-English bilingual communities.


Bilingual; pain; cultural priming; Spanish-English; Linguistic Relativity

Available for download on Sunday, November 07, 2021