Psychological pathways from racial discrimination to cortisol in African American males and females

J Behav Med. 2018 Apr;41(2):208-220. doi: 10.1007/s10865-017-9887-2. Epub 2017 Sep 23.


The association between racial discrimination (discrimination) and stress-related alterations in the neuroendocrine response-namely, cortisol secretion-is well documented in African Americans (AAs). Dysregulation in production of cortisol has been implicated as a contributor to racial health disparities. Guided by Clark et al. (Am Psychol 54(10):805-816, 1999. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.54.10.805 ) biopsychosocial model of racism and health, the present study examined the psychological pathways that link discrimination to total cortisol concentrations in AA males and females. In a sample of 312 AA emerging adults (45.5% males; ages 21-23), symptoms of anxiety, but not depression, mediated the relation between discrimination and total concentrations of cortisol. In addition, the results did not reveal sex differences in the direct and indirect pathways. These findings advance our understanding of racial health disparities by suggesting that the psychological consequences of discrimination can uniquely promote physiologic dysregulation in AAs.

Keywords: Cortisol; Discrimination; Gender; Health disparities; Stress.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anxiety / metabolism
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Black or African American / psychology*
  • Depression / metabolism
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / analysis*
  • Male
  • Racism / psychology*
  • Saliva / chemistry


  • Hydrocortisone