Affect reactivity and lifetime racial discrimination among Black college students: The role of coping

Am J Orthopsychiatry. 2022;92(4):516-528. doi: 10.1037/ort0000630. Epub 2022 May 19.


Black individuals face psychological distress resulting from lifetime experiences of racial discrimination, and these experiences may be especially harmful to Black college students as they forge their social identities. One way to examine psychological distress induced by racial discrimination is by assessing affect reactivity, or the degree to which aspects of individuals' mood changes in response to a stressor. This quantitative investigation examines the association between lifetime racial discrimination frequency and stress responses to acute racial discrimination via two aspects of affect reactivity, valence and arousal, and if coping strategies moderate this association. A sample of 239 Black college students (Mage = 19.59, SDage = 2.15, 68.6% female) completed an online questionnaire that included measures of racial discrimination, coping, and demographics. They then attended a laboratory visit during which their affective responses to a stress task were collected. Regression analyses indicated an interaction between lifetime racial discrimination and social support coping on arousal reactivity in response to acute racial discrimination. For individuals who reported low levels of social support coping, more frequent lifetime racial discrimination was associated with a decrease in arousal. For individuals who reported high levels of social support coping, more frequent lifetime racial discrimination was associated with an increase in arousal. Implications for the mental health of Black college students exposed to racial discrimination and avenues for further investigation are discussed. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Black or African American / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Racism* / psychology
  • Social Support
  • Students / psychology
  • Young Adult