Where Is Your Pain? A Cross-cultural Comparison of the Concept of Pain in Americans and South Koreans

Hyo-eun Kim, Nina Poth, Kevin Reuter, Justin Sytsma


Philosophical orthodoxy holds that pains are mental states, taking this to reflect the ordinary conception of pain. Despite this, evidence is mounting that English speakers do not tend to conceptualize pains in this way; rather, they tend to treat pains as being bodily states. We hypothesize that this is driven by two primary factors -- the phenomenology of feeling pains and the surface grammar of pain reports. There is reason to expect that neither of these factors is culturally specific, however, and thus reason to expect that the empirical findings for English speakers will generalize to other cultures and other languages. In this article we begin to test this hypothesis, reporting the results of two cross-cultural studies comparing judgments about the location of referred pains (cases where the felt location of the pain diverges from the bodily damage) between two groups -- Americans and South Koreans -- that we might otherwise expect to differ in how they understand pains. In line with our predictions, we find that both groups tend to conceive of pains as bodily states.


pain, concept of pain, semantics of pain, experimental philosophy, cross-cultural study, sound

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.12697/spe.2016.9.1.06

Copyright (c) 2017 Justin Sytsma

Online ISSN: 1736-5899 | Print ISSN: 2228-110X