The Effect of Acute Interpersonal Racial Discrimination on Smoking Motivation and Behavior Among Black Smokers: an Experimental Study

J Racial Ethn Health Disparities. 2021 Dec;8(6):1511-1521. doi: 10.1007/s40615-020-00914-4. Epub 2020 Nov 19.


In comparison to White smokers, Black smokers are likely to report both more discrimination and less success in smoking cessation. No previous study has tested the causal relationship between an experience of racial discrimination and smoking variables associated with cessation. The goal of this study was to test the causal influence of interpersonal racial discrimination on smoking motivation (i.e., the urge to smoke cigarettes, cessation self-efficacy, and smoking behavior) using a controlled experimental design. We used a virtual ball-playing game to create a laboratory model of racial discrimination. A 2 × 2 between-subjects factorial design (inclusion/exclusion vs. ingroup/outgroup) was used to randomly assign participants to one of four groups: (1) included/ingroup, (2) included/outgroup, (3) excluded/ingroup (ostracism), and (4) excluded/outgroup (racial discrimination). Sixty-nine Black smokers were recruited from the community. Participants in the excluded conditions reported lower cessation self-efficacy than those in the included conditions. Participants in the outgroup conditions had reduced latency to smoke compared to those in the ingroup conditions. There were no main effects of social inclusion on cravings or latency to smoke and no statistically significant interactions for social inclusion × group membership. This laboratory simulation of racial discrimination shows a causal relationship between exclusion and low cessation self-efficacy, which contributes to a better understanding of influences upon smoking cessation attempts among Black smokers.

Keywords: African American; Health disparities; Smoking; Social exclusion; Tobacco.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Motivation
  • Ostracism
  • Racism*
  • Smokers*
  • Smoking