Neurocognitive and whole-system reactions to covert racial discrimination-induced stress

Monique Donnell Wilson, Fordham University


Research has shown that Blacks disproportionately suffer from diseases associated with stress including heart disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes when compared to Whites. Additionally, significant disparities between racial groups have been observed in area of academic achievement, with Blacks reaching significantly lower levels of achievement than Whites. Research has shown that regardless of socioeconomic background, Blacks attain substantially lower GPAs, score lower on standardized tests, and are more likely to be placed in special education classes than their White counterparts. Finally, Blacks continue to report higher levels of perceived race-based discrimination than Whites. The present study merges the existing literature on disparities in health outcomes among racial/ethnic groups; disparities in academic achievement among racial/ethnic groups; the prevalence of racial discrimination reported by Blacks; the establishment of racial discrimination as a significant source of stress for Blacks; and the links between stress and negative health outcomes as well as stress and compromised cognitive functioning. The aim of the present study is to elucidate the role of racial discrimination in the poor health and academic outcomes observed among Blacks in the U.S. While many different types of discrimination have been identified and studied, the present study will examine covert racial discrimination, which is defined as behavior that subtly conveys a negative attitude or judgment toward a member of a given group. In the present study, exposure to covert racial discrimination will be employed as a stressor and physiological and cognitive consequences will be assessed. Method: Fifty-one Blacks between the ages of 18 and 30 were recruited from the greater New York City area. All participants were administered pre and post measures of heart rate, blood pressure, and verbal, visual, and working memory. Results: No significant change in heart rate or blood pressure was observed in participant in the control condition. The change in heart rate between groups was significant with participants in the control group exhibiting a greater reduction in hear rate. No association between exposure to a racial microaggression and cognitive performance was found. Conclusions: The findings of the present study were unable to establish a significant relationship between exposure to a racial microaggression and changes physiological arousal or cognitive performance.

Subject Area

Neurosciences|Ethnic studies|Cognitive psychology

Recommended Citation

Wilson, Monique Donnell, "Neurocognitive and whole-system reactions to covert racial discrimination-induced stress" (2014). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3643392.