African American young adults represent a population highly vulnerable to risk behavior including substance use and dependence. Despite the urgency of this vulnerability, there remains limited understanding of the unique factors that underlie risk behavior among this population. Research indicates that racial discrimination is a key variable contributing to the emergence of risk behavior among African American young adults, with particular relevance of racial discrimination in the form of social rejection. Moreove, it has been suggested that the robustness of this relationship may be influenced by one's racial identity, with some evidence indicating that the impact of racial discrimination on risk behavior may be buffered as a function of a more integrated racial identity. Towards this end, this application proposes to examine the impact of racial discrimination in the form of stress ensuing from an experience of social rejection on risk-taking propensity among African American young adults. Specifically, we compare risk-taking propensity on a laboratory measure of risk taking after completing a virtual analogue of social rejection (i.e., Cyberball). Social rejection will be manifested in either a standard format (general social rejection stress), a format that highlights racial discrimination (discrimination- specific social rejection stress), or not manifested in a no stress condition. Moreover, we aim to understand protective factors in the context of discrimination-specific social rejection stress by testing the potential moderating effect of racia identity (high integrated identity vs. low integrated identity). We hypothesize risk taking will be greater for those in the general social rejection stress condition compared to those in the no stress condition, regardless of racial identity integration. Moreover, for those in the discrimination-specific social rejection stress condition, risk taking will be moderated by level o integrated racial identity;specifically, risk taking for this group will be lower than the general social rejection stress group and equal to the no stress group for those with high integrated identity and higher than both of these groups for those with low integrated identity. The significance of this innovative study lies in: 1) use of a laboratory-based setting which limits th impact of confounding variables, 2) use of a well validated and novel behavioral assessment that has been shown to be related to risk taking including substance use, 3) potential isolation of a theoretically-relevant protective factor for reducing risk taking behavior, and 4) impact on future work expanding the assessment to real world risk behavior. Consistent with NIDA's strategic plan to better understand substance abuse among racial/ethnic minorities, the findings from the proposed study will be also used to demonstrate feasibility and supporting evidence for a future R21 that will expand this research to include larger samples of African Americans as well as other racial/ethnic minority groups to examine the specificity of this model. Thus, the proposed research represents the first step in addressing an important vulnerability factor for African American young adults and risk taking, and could suggest an intervention target that is currently underutilized.

Public Health Relevance

African American young adults (age 18 to 25) are highly vulnerable to risk behavior including substance use, yet there remains limited understanding of the unique factors that underlie risk behavior among this population. The current application aims to address this central public health priority through the examination of a culturally relevan risk factor (i.e., racial discrimination in the form of social rejection) and protective individual difference variable (i.e., racial identity)-both of which impact risk taking vulnerability. Thus, tis pursuit has the potential to further our understanding of the socio-cultural determinants that influence risk taking propensity and thereby offer intervention targets that reduce the deleterious impact of racial discrimination on risk taking behavior in this underserved population.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Small Research Grants (R03)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-AARR-F (59))
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Schulden, Jeffrey D
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University of Maryland College Park
Schools of Arts and Sciences
College Park
United States
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