Discrimination and the stress response: psychological and physiological consequences of anticipating prejudice in interethnic interactions

Am J Public Health. 2012 May;102(5):1020-6. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2011.300620. Epub 2012 Mar 15.


Objectives: We sought to demonstrate that individuals who anticipate interacting with a prejudiced cross-race/ethnicity partner show an exacerbated stress response, as measured through both self-report and hemodynamic and vascular responses, compared with individuals anticipating interacting with a nonprejudiced cross-race/ethnicity partner.

Methods: Through a questionnaire exchange with a White interaction partner (a confederate) Latina participants learned that their partner had racial/ethnic biased or egalitarian attitudes. Latina participants reported their cognitive and emotional states, and cardiovascular responses were measured while participants prepared and delivered a speech to the White confederate.

Results: Participants who believed that their interaction partner held prejudiced attitudes reported greater concern and more threat emotions before the interaction, and more stress after the interaction, and showed greater cardiovascular response than did participants who believed that their partner had egalitarian attitudes.

Conclusions: This study shows that merely anticipating prejudice leads to both psychological and cardiovascular stress responses. These results are consistent with the conceptualization of anticipated discrimination as a stressor and suggest that vigilance for prejudice may be a contributing factor to racial/ethnic health disparities in the United States.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Hemodynamics / physiology*
  • Hispanic or Latino*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prejudice*
  • Stress, Psychological / ethnology*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • Young Adult