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.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
Research Project (R01)
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Social Psychology, Personality and Interpersonal Processes Study Section (SPIP)
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Kaufmann, Peter G
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University of California Santa Barbara
Schools of Arts and Sciences
Santa Barbara
United States
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Major, Brenda; Kunstman, Jonathan W; Malta, Brenna D et al. (2016) Suspicion of Motives Predicts Minorities' Responses to Positive Feedback in Interracial Interactions. J Exp Soc Psychol 62:75-88
Spencer-Rodgers, Julie; Major, Brenda; Forster, Daniel et al. (2016) The Power of Affirming Group Values: Group Affirmation Buffers the Self-Esteem of Women Exposed to Blatant Sexism. Self Identity 15:413-431
Muhtadie, Luma; Koslov, Katrina; Akinola, Modupe et al. (2015) Vagal flexibility: A physiological predictor of social sensitivity. J Pers Soc Psychol 109:106-20
Shenhav, Amitai; Mendes, Wendy Berry (2014) Aiming for the stomach and hitting the heart: dissociable triggers and sources for disgust reactions. Emotion 14:301-9
Page-Gould, Elizabeth; Mendoza-Denton, Rodolfo; Mendes, Wendy Berry (2014) Stress and coping in interracial contexts: The influence of race-based rejection sensitivity and cross-group friendship in daily experiences of health. J Soc Issues 70:256-278
Major, Brenda; Mendes, Wendy Berry; Dovidio, John F (2013) Intergroup relations and health disparities: a social psychological perspective. Health Psychol 32:514-24
Mendes, Wendy Berry; Koslov, Katrina (2013) Brittle smiles: positive biases toward stigmatized and outgroup targets. J Exp Psychol Gen 142:923-33
Major, Brenda; Sawyer, Pamela J; Kunstman, Jonathan W (2013) Minority perceptions of Whites' motives for responding without prejudice: the perceived internal and external motivation to avoid prejudice scales. Pers Soc Psychol Bull 39:401-14
Kassam, Karim S; Mendes, Wendy Berry (2013) The effects of measuring emotion: physiological reactions to emotional situations depend on whether someone is asking. PLoS One 8:e64959
Cushman, Fiery; Gray, Kurt; Gaffey, Allison et al. (2012) Simulating murder: the aversion to harmful action. Emotion 12:2-7

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