The Effects of Perceived Discrimination on Mental and Physical Health

Summary

Principal Investigator: BRENDA N MAJOR
Affiliation: University of California
Country: USA
Abstract: This research examines the impact of chronic and acute perceptions of discrimination on psychological and physiological stress responses. Perceived discrimination is widely assumed to negatively affect both mental and physical health, but research directly addressing this issue is scarce. Drawing on models of stress and emotion, it is hypothesized thatperceiving others to be prejudiced against the self is stressful, and initiates a cascade of negative self-and other-related cognitions and emotions that in turn, initiate general physiological stress responses (e.g., blood pressure reactivity, elevated cortisol) as well as more specific stress responses associated with threat (e.g., vascular resistance) or anger (e.g., cardiac output). These physiological responses have adverse health implications if repeatedly experienced over time (McEwen, 2000). It is also predictd that resilience as well as vulnerability can occur in response to perceived discrimination. 10 experimental designs (with three replications) are proposed to assess the interrelationships among cognitive, affective, and biological (hormonal and cardiovascular) responses to acute discrimination-relevant events among Latino-Americans, African-Americans, and women. Experiment 1 tests the hypothesis that chronic or situationally induced expectations of prejudice lead to increased physiological stress responses and greater threat in evaluatively ambiguous intergroup situations. Experiments 2-4 test the independent effectsof exposure to negative social feedback and expectations of discrimination on anger and threat-related stress responses. Experiments 5 - 6 examine the physiological effects of clear rejection or selection based on social identity. Experiments 7-8 examine how a stigmatized target's situationally activated or chronically held prejudice expectations interact with the prejudice level of a nonstigmatized partner to influence stress responses in naturally occurring dyadic social interactions. Experiments 9-10 test the hypothesis that dispositional optimism and manipulated optimism increase resilience among individuals who are exposed to prejudice. All experiments assume that physiological reactions to potentially discriminatory situations are shaped by features of the situation and of the person, and test the hypothesis that negative cognitions and affective responses mediate physiological responses to discrimination-relevant stressors.
Funding Period: ----------------2006 - ---------------2011-
more information: NIH RePORT

Top Publications

  1. pmc Why egalitarianism might be good for your health: physiological thriving during stressful intergroup encounters
    Wendy Berry Mendes
    Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA
    Psychol Sci 18:991-8. 2007
  2. pmc The effects of measuring emotion: physiological reactions to emotional situations depend on whether someone is asking
    Karim S Kassam
    Department of Social and Decision Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
    PLoS ONE 8:e64959. 2013
  3. pmc Intergroup relations and health disparities: a social psychological perspective
    Brenda Major
    Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA
    Health Psychol 32:514-24. 2013
  4. doi Minority perceptions of Whites' motives for responding without prejudice: the perceived internal and external motivation to avoid prejudice scales
    Brenda Major
    Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of California, Santa Barbara, 552 University Road, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA
    Pers Soc Psychol Bull 39:401-14. 2013
  5. doi Brittle smiles: positive biases toward stigmatized and outgroup targets
    Wendy Berry Mendes
    Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 94143, USA
    J Exp Psychol Gen 142:923-33. 2013
  6. pmc Aiming for the stomach and hitting the heart: dissociable triggers and sources for disgust reactions
    Amitai Shenhav
    Department of Psychology, Harvard University
    Emotion 14:301-9. 2014
  7. pmc How attributional ambiguity shapes physiological and emotional responses to social rejection and acceptance
    Wendy Berry Mendes
    Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA
    J Pers Soc Psychol 94:278-91. 2008
  8. pmc The dark side of creativity: biological vulnerability and negative emotions lead to greater artistic creativity
    Modupe Akinola
    Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA
    Pers Soc Psychol Bull 34:1677-86. 2008
  9. pmc An in-group advantage in detecting intergroup anxiety
    Heather M Gray
    Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA
    Psychol Sci 19:1233-7. 2008
  10. pmc Can the absence of prejudice be more threatening than its presence? It depends on one's worldview
    Sarah S M Townsend
    Department of Psychology, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA
    J Pers Soc Psychol 99:933-47. 2010

Scientific Experts

  • Christian E Waugh
  • Modupe Akinola
  • Fiery Cushman
  • Sarah S M Townsend
  • Wendy Berry Mendes
  • Brenda Major
  • Karim S Kassam
  • Katrina Koslov
  • Pamela J Sawyer
  • Heather M Gray
  • Amitai Shenhav
  • John F Dovidio
  • Jonathan W Kunstman
  • Bettina J Casad
  • Petra E Pajtas
  • Diego A Pizzagalli
  • Jim Blascovich
  • Carrigan Denny-Brown
  • Shannon McCoy
  • Elissa S Epel
  • Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton

Detail Information

Publications19

  1. pmc Why egalitarianism might be good for your health: physiological thriving during stressful intergroup encounters
    Wendy Berry Mendes
    Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA
    Psychol Sci 18:991-8. 2007
    ..Egalitarianism may have physical and psychological benefits for people living in a diverse society...
  2. pmc The effects of measuring emotion: physiological reactions to emotional situations depend on whether someone is asking
    Karim S Kassam
    Department of Social and Decision Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
    PLoS ONE 8:e64959. 2013
    ..The study demonstrates that the simple act of reporting on an emotional state may have a substantial impact on the body's reaction to an emotional situation...
  3. pmc Intergroup relations and health disparities: a social psychological perspective
    Brenda Major
    Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA
    Health Psychol 32:514-24. 2013
    ..This article considers how the social psychology of intergroup processes helps to explain the presence and persistence of health disparities between members of socially advantaged and disadvantaged groups...
  4. doi Minority perceptions of Whites' motives for responding without prejudice: the perceived internal and external motivation to avoid prejudice scales
    Brenda Major
    Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of California, Santa Barbara, 552 University Road, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA
    Pers Soc Psychol Bull 39:401-14. 2013
    ....
  5. doi Brittle smiles: positive biases toward stigmatized and outgroup targets
    Wendy Berry Mendes
    Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 94143, USA
    J Exp Psychol Gen 142:923-33. 2013
    ..g., with stress or cognitive load). Taken together, these studies suggest that positive biases toward stigmatized and outgroup members are fragile and can be undermined when resources are taxed...
  6. pmc Aiming for the stomach and hitting the heart: dissociable triggers and sources for disgust reactions
    Amitai Shenhav
    Department of Psychology, Harvard University
    Emotion 14:301-9. 2014
    ....
  7. pmc How attributional ambiguity shapes physiological and emotional responses to social rejection and acceptance
    Wendy Berry Mendes
    Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA
    J Pers Soc Psychol 94:278-91. 2008
    ..The latter appeared vigilant and exhibited threat responses. Discussion centers on implications for attributional ambiguity theory and potential pathways from discrimination to health outcomes...
  8. pmc The dark side of creativity: biological vulnerability and negative emotions lead to greater artistic creativity
    Modupe Akinola
    Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA
    Pers Soc Psychol Bull 34:1677-86. 2008
    ..These data provide evidence of possible biological and social pathways to artistic creativity...
  9. pmc An in-group advantage in detecting intergroup anxiety
    Heather M Gray
    Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA
    Psychol Sci 19:1233-7. 2008
    ..These results suggest that White and Black Americans may have difficulty developing a sense of shared emotional experience...
  10. pmc Can the absence of prejudice be more threatening than its presence? It depends on one's worldview
    Sarah S M Townsend
    Department of Psychology, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA
    J Pers Soc Psychol 99:933-47. 2010
    ..The specific pattern of the moderation differed across the 2 studies...
  11. pmc Decisions under distress: stress profiles influence anchoring and adjustment
    Karim S Kassam
    Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA
    Psychol Sci 20:1394-9. 2009
    ..Cardiovascular responses mediated the relationship between condition and adjustment. This study demonstrates the importance of considering profiles of cardiovascular reactivity when examining the influence of stress on decision making...
  12. pmc Discrimination and the stress response: psychological and physiological consequences of anticipating prejudice in interethnic interactions
    Pamela J Sawyer
    Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
    Am J Public Health 102:1020-6. 2012
    ....
  13. ncbi Stress-induced cortisol facilitates threat-related decision making among police officers
    Modupe Akinola
    Department of Management, Columbia Business School, Columbia University, New York, NY 10027, USA
    Behav Neurosci 126:167-74. 2012
    ..We conclude with a discussion of the implications of threat-initiated decision making...
  14. doi Simulating murder: the aversion to harmful action
    Fiery Cushman
    Department of Psychology, Harvard University, USA
    Emotion 12:2-7. 2012
    ..This suggests that the aversion to harmful actions extends beyond empathic concern for victim harm. Together, these studies demonstrate a link between the body and moral decision-making processes...
  15. pmc Cardiovascular and affective recovery from anticipatory threat
    Christian E Waugh
    Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA
    Biol Psychol 84:169-75. 2010
    ..These findings suggest that failing to recover from anticipation has unique physiological costs that, in turn, may contribute to mental and physical illness...
  16. pmc From "in the air" to "under the skin": cortisol responses to social identity threat
    Sarah S M Townsend
    University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA
    Pers Soc Psychol Bull 37:151-64. 2011
    ..These results illustrate the powerful interactive effects of chronic perceptions of sexism and situational cues on women's stress reactivity...
  17. pmc Asymmetry in resting intracortical activity as a buffer to social threat
    Katrina Koslov
    Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94111, USA
    Psychol Sci 22:641-9. 2011
    ..Our data are the first to show that social context matters when attempting to link individual differences in cortical asymmetry with approach-related cardiovascular and emotional outcomes...