Self-reported experiences of discrimination and health: scientific advances, ongoing controversies, and emerging issues

Annu Rev Clin Psychol. 2015:11:407-40. doi: 10.1146/annurev-clinpsy-032814-112728. Epub 2015 Jan 2.


Over the past two decades, research examining the impact of self-reported experiences of discrimination on mental and physical health has increased dramatically. Studies have found consistent associations between exposure to discrimination and a wide range of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)-diagnosed mental disorders as well as objective physical health outcomes. Associations are seen in cross-sectional as well as longitudinal studies and persist even after adjustment for confounding variables, including personality characteristics and other threats to validity. However, controversies remain, particularly around the best approach to measuring experiences of discrimination, the significance of racial/ethnic discrimination versus overall mistreatment, the need to account for "intersectionalities," and the importance of comprehensive assessments. These issues are discussed in detail, along with emerging areas of emphasis including cyber discrimination, anticipatory stress or vigilance around discrimination, and interventions with potential to reduce the negative effects of discrimination on health. We also discuss priorities for future research and implications for interventions and policy.

Keywords: discrimination; measurement; prejudice; psychosocial; racism; sexism; stress; systematic review; unfair treatment.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Behavioral Research
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / etiology
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Personality
  • Prejudice / psychology*
  • Racism / psychology
  • Self Report*