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New Evidence Links Stress With Racism

• June 25, 2009 • 6:20 PM

Study shows that encounters with perceived racial discrimination caused high levels of stress and depression in highly educated African Americans.

Chronic exposure to racial discrimination is associated with increased levels of anxiety and depression. That’s one finding of a newly published study that adds to evidence that racism may be taking a toll on the health of African Americans — the subject of an in-depth cover story in the July/August issue of Miller-McCune magazine.

A research team led by psychologist Anthony Ong of Cornell University collected two weeks’ worth of daily diary data from 174 highly educated African Americans. (One-third had earned a doctorate degree, while two-thirds were enrolled in a doctoral program.) Participants were asked to report incidents of racial discrimination, non-race-related negative life events and symptoms of anxiety and depression.

They reported experiencing, on average, “at least one racial discrimination event on 26 percent of the study days,” the report states. (One example of such an event was, “Today I was ignored, overlooked or not given service.”)

On those days when participants encountered an instance of perceived racial discrimination, “they reported higher levels of negative affect, anxiety and depression,” the report states. On top of this direct impact, the study suggests “stress spillover effects” also come into play, noting that “our results indicate that chronic exposure to racial discrimination may lead to an accumulation or bundling of daily negative events across multiple life domains (e.g., family, friends, finances, health).”


For more this topic, see our story on unintended racism in schools on Miller-McCune.com.


Ong and his colleagues draw two key conclusions from their study. “First, our findings join with past research in demonstrating that racial discrimination can have inimical effects on health and well-being, and that these effects are reliably evident across a variety of psychological outcomes.

“Second, our results add to accumulating evidence suggesting that stress proliferation — the tendency of stressors to multiply and create other stressors — is a critical but vastly overlooked feature of the stress process.”

 

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Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

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