Journal of Behavioral Medicine

, Volume 37, Issue 6, pp 1134–1144 | Cite as

Perceived discrimination as a stressor for close relationships: identifying psychological and physiological pathways



Approaching the inverse association between perceived discrimination and close relationship functioning from a stress and coping framework, we propose and test a novel model incorporating psychological (emotion dysregulation) and physiological (chronic inflammation) pathways. Analyses of data from a sample of African American participants (N = 592) enrolled in the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) study revealed support for the proposed model. Specifically, results from structural equation modeling analyses showed that perceived discrimination was indirectly associated with increased emotion dysregulation (venting and denial) through stressor appraisals and directly associated with increased inflammation (interluekin-6, e-selectin and c-reactive protein). Furthermore, relationship strain with family, friends and spouses was associated with greater levels of emotion dysregulation and chronic inflammation. Overall, the proposed model fit the data well and provides support for new avenues of research on the social, psychological and physiological correlates of perceived discrimination and close relationship functioning. To conclude, evidence for the proposed biopsychosocial model is summarized and directions for future research on these topics are discussed.


Perceived discrimination Close relationships Stress and coping Emotion dysregulation Inflammation 


Conflict of interest

David Matthew Doyle and Lisa Molix declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Informed consent

All procedures followed were in accordance with ethical standards of the responsible committee on human experimentation (institutional and national) and with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975, as revised in 2000. Informed consent was obtained from all patients for being included in the study.


  1. Ajrouch, K. J., Antonucci, T. C., & Janevic, M. R. (2001). Social networks among blacks and whites the interaction between race and age. The Journals of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 56, S112–S118. doi: 10.1093/geronb/56.2.S112 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Albert, M. A., Ravenell, J., Glynn, R. J., Khera, A., Halevy, N., & de Lemos, J. A. (2008). Cardiovascular risk indicators and perceived race/ethnic discrimination in the Dallas heart study. American Heart Journal, 156, 1103–1109. doi: 10.1016/j.ahj.2008.07.027 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arbuckle, J. L. (1996). Full information estimation in the presence of incomplete data. In G. A. Marcoulides & R. E. Schumacker (Eds.), Advanced structural equation modeling: Issues and techniques (pp. 243–277). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  4. Arbuckle, J. L. (1997). Amos users’ guide. Chicago: Small Waters Corporation.Google Scholar
  5. Barnes, L. L., de Leon, C. F. M., Bienias, J. L., & Evans, D. A. (2004). A longitudinal study of black-white differences in social resources. The Journals of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 59, 146–153. doi: 10.1093/geronb/59.3.S146 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brondolo, E., Thompson, S., Brady, N., Appel, R., Cassells, A., Tobin, J. N., et al. (2005). The relationship of racism to appraisals and coping in a community sample. Ethnicity and Disease, 15, 14–19.Google Scholar
  7. Broudy, R., Brondolo, E., Coakley, V., Brady, N., Cassells, A., Tobin, J. N., et al. (2007). Perceived ethnic discrimination in relation to daily moods and negative social interactions. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 30, 31–43. doi: 10.1007/s10865-006-9081-4 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bulanda, J. R., & Brown, S. L. (2007). Race-ethnic differences in marital quality and divorce. Social Science Research, 36, 945–967. doi: 10.1016/j.ssresearch.2006.04.001 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Carver, C. S., Scheier, M. F., & Weintraub, J. K. (1989). Assessing coping strategies: A theoretically based approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56, 267–283. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.56.2.267 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Christian, L. M., Franco, A., Glaser, R., & Iams, J. D. (2009). Depressive symptoms are associated with elevated serum proinflammatory cytokines among pregnant women. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 23, 750–754. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2009.02.012 PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Clark, R., Anderson, N. B., Clark, V. R., & Williams, D. R. (1999). Racism as a stressor for African Americans: A biopsychosocial model. American Psychologist, 54, 805–816. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.54.10.805 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Clark, R., Coleman, A. P., & Novak, J. D. (2004). Brief report: Initial psychometric properties of the everyday discrimination scale in black adolescents. Journal of Adolescence, 27, 363–368. doi: 10.1016/j.adolescence.2003.09.004 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cohen, S., Kamark, T., & Mermelstein, R. (1983). A global measure of perceived stress. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 24, 385–396.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cole, S. W., Hawkley, L. C., Arevalo, J. M., Sung, C. Y., Rose, R. M., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2007). Social regulation of gene expression in human leukocytes. Genome Biology, 8, 1–13. doi: 10.1186/gb-2007-8-9-r189 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cunningham, T. J., Seeman, T. E., Kawachi, I., Gortmaker, S. L., Jacobs, D. R., Kiefe, C. I., et al. (2012). Racial/ethnic and gender differences in the association between self-reported experiences of racial/ethnic discrimination and inflammation in the CARDIA cohort of 4 US communities. Social Science and Medicine, 75, 922–931. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.04.027 PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Dantzer, R., O’Connor, J. C., Freund, G. G., Johnson, R. W., & Kelley, K. W. (2008). From inflammation to sickness and depression: When the immune system subjugates the brain. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 9, 46–56. doi: 10.1038/nrn2297 PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Dohrenwend, B. P. (2006). Inventorying stressful life events as risk factors for psychopathology: Toward resolution of the problem of intracategory variability. Psychological Bulletin, 132, 477–495. doi: 10.1037/00332909.132.3.477 PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Doyle, D. M., & Molix, L. (2014). Love on the margins: The effects of social stigma and relationship length on romantic relationship quality. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 5, 102–110. doi: 10.1177/1948550613486677 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Doyle, D.M., & Molix, L. (in press). How does stigma spoil relationships? Evidence that perceived discrimination harms romantic relationship quality through impaired self-image. Journal of Applied Social Psychology. doi:  10.1111/jasp.12252
  20. Eisenberger, N. I., Inagaki, T. K., Mashal, N. M., & Irwin, M. R. (2010). Inflammation and social experience: An inflammatory challenge induces feelings of social disconnection in addition to depressed mood. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 24, 558–563. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2009.12.009 PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Elliott, D.B., Krivickas, K., Brault, M.W., & Kreider, R.M. (2012). Historical marriage trends from 1890 to 2010: A focus on race differences (SEHSD Working Paper 2012–12). Washington, DC: United States Census Bureau.Google Scholar
  22. Folkman, S., Lazarus, R. S., Dunkel-Schetter, C., DeLongis, A., & Gruen, R. J. (1986a). Dynamics of a stressful encounter: Cognitive appraisal, coping and encounter outcomes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50, 992–1003. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.50.5.992 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Folkman, S., Lazarus, R. S., Gruen, R. J., & DeLongis, A. (1986b). Appraisal, coping, health status, and psychological symptoms. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50, 571–579. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.50.3.571 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Ford, E. S., Loucks, E. B., & Berkman, L. F. (2006). Social integration and concentrations of C-reactive protein among US adults. Annals of Epidemiology, 16, 78–84. doi: 10.1016/j.annepidem.2005.08.005 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Friedman, E. M., Hayney, M. S., Love, G. D., Urry, H. L., Rosenkranz, M. A., Davidson, R. J., et al. (2005). Social relationships sleep quality, and interleukin-6 in aging women. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 102, 18757–18762. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0509281102 PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Friedman, E. M., Williams, D. R., Singer, B. H., & Ryff, C. D. (2009). Chronic discrimination predicts higher circulating levels of E-selectin in a national sample: The MIDUS study. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 23, 684–692. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2009.01.002 PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Ganzel, B. L., Morris, P. A., & Wethington, E. (2010). Allostasis and the human brain: Integrating models of stress from the social life sciences. Psychological Review, 117, 134–174. doi: 10.1037/a0017773 PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Gottman, J. M., & Notarius, C. I. (2000). Decade review: Observing marital interaction. Journal of Marriage and Family, 62, 927–947. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2000.00927.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Gross, J. J. (1998). The emerging field of emotion regulation: An integrative review. Review of General Psychology, 2, 271–299. doi: 10.1037/1089-2680.2.3.271 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T. B., & Layton, J. B. (2010). Social relationships and mortality risk: A meta-analytic review. PLoS Medicine, 7, 1–20. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. House, J. S., Landis, K. R., & Umberson, D. (1988). Social relationships and health. Science, 241, 540–545.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Huebner, D. M., Nemeroff, C. J., & Davis, M. C. (2005). Do hostility and neuroticism confound associations between perceived discrimination and depressive symptoms? Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 24, 723–740. doi: 10.1521/jscp.2005.24.5.723 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Inagaki, T. K., Muscatell, K. A., Irwin, M. R., Cole, S. W., & Eisenberger, N. I. (2012). Inflammation selectively enhances amygdala activity to socially threatening images. NeuroImage, 59, 3222–3226. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.10.090 PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Jaremka, L. M., Lindgren, M. E., & Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K. (2013). Synergistic relationships among stress, depression, and troubled relationships: Insights from psychoneuroimmunology. Depression and Anxiety, 30, 288–296. doi: 10.1002/da.22078 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kessler, R. C., Mickelson, K. D., & Williams, D. R. (1999). The prevalence, distribution, and mental health correlate of perceived discrimination in the United States. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 40, 208–230.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kiecolt-Glaser, J., Preacher, K. J., MacCallum, R. C., Atkinson, C., Malarkey, W. B., & Glaser, R. (2003). Chronic stress and age-related increases in the proinflammatory cytokine IL-6. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 100, 9090–9095. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1531903100 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Lazarus, R. S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. New York: Springer Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  38. Lewis, T. T., Aiello, A. E., Leurgans, S., Kelly, J., & Barnes, L. L. (2010). Self-reported experiences of everyday discrimination are associated with elevated C-reactive protein levels in older African–American adults. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 24, 438–443. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2009.11.011 PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Lewis, T. T., Yang, F. M., Jacobs, E. A., & Fitchett, G. (2012). Racial/ethnic differences in responses to the everyday discrimination scale: A differential item functioning analysis. American Journal of Epidemiology, 175, 391–401. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwr287 PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Lincoln, K. D., & Chae, D. H. (2010). Stress, marital satisfaction, and psychological distress among African Americans. Journal of Family Issues, 31, 1081–1105. doi: 10.1177/0192513X10365826 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Love, G. D., Seeman, T. E., Weinstein, M., & Ryff, C. D. (2010). Bioindicators in the MIDUS national study: Protocol, measures, sample, and comparative context. Journal of Aging and Health, 22, 1059–1080. doi: 10.1177/0898264310374355 PubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Mauss, I. B., Bunge, S. A., & Gross, J. J. (2007). Automatic emotion regulation. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 1, 146–167. doi: 10.1111/j.1751-9004.2007.00005.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Mays, V. M., Cochran, S. D., & Barnes, N. W. (2007). Race, race-based discrimination, and health outcomes among African Americans. Annual Review of Psychology, 58, 201–225. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.57.102904.190212 PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. McCubbin, H. I., & Patterson, J. M. (1983). A family stress process: The double ABCX model of adjustment and adaptation. Marriage and Family Review, 6, 7–37. doi: 10.1300/J002v06n01_02 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. McLoyd, V. C. (1990). The impact of economic hardship on black families and children: Psychological distress, parenting, and socioemotional development. Child Development, 61, 311–346. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.1990.tb02781.x PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Mehra, A., Kilduff, M., & Brass, D. J. (1998). At the margins: A distinctiveness approach to the social identity and social networks of underrepresented groups. Academy of Management Journal, 41, 441–452. doi: 10.2307/257083 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Miller, G. E., Chen, E., & Parker, K. J. (2011). Psychological stress in childhood and susceptibility to the chronic diseases of aging: Moving toward a model of behavioral and biological mechanisms. Psychological Bulletin, 137, 959–997. doi: 10.1037/a0024768 PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Miller, C. T., & Kaiser, C. R. (2001). A theoretical perspective on coping with stigma. Journal of Social Issues, 57, 73–92. doi: 10.1111/0022-4537.00202 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Murry, V. M., Brown, P. A., Brody, G. H., Cutrona, C. E., & Simons, R. L. (2001). Racial discrimination as a moderator of the links among stress, maternal psychological functioning, and family relationships. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63, 915–926. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2001.00915.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Noh, S., Kaspar, V., & Wickrama, K. A. S. (2007). Overt and subtle racial discrimination and mental health: Preliminary findings for Korean immigrants. American Journal of Public Health, 97, 1269–1274. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2005.085316 PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Otis, M. D., Rostosky, S. S., Riggle, E. D. B., & Hamrin, R. (2006). Stress and relationship quality in same-sex couples. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 23, 81–99. doi: 10.1177/0265407506060179 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Randall, A. K., & Bodenmann, G. (2009). The role of stress on close relationships and marital satisfaction. Clinical Psychology Review, 29, 105–115. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2008.10.004 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Ratner, K. G., Halim, M. L., & Amodio, D. M. (2013). Perceived stigmatization, ingroup pride, and immune and endocrine activity: Evidence from a community sample of Black and Latina women. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 4, 82–91. doi: 10.1177/1948550612443715 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Reynolds, P., Boyd, P. T., Blacklow, R. S., Jackson, J. S., Greenberg, R. S., Austin, D. F., et al. (1994). The relationship between social ties and survival among black and white breast cancer patients: National Cancer Institute black/white cancer survival study group. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, 3, 253–259.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  55. Ryff, C., Almeida, D.M., Ayanian, J.S., Carr, D.S., Cleary, P.D., Coe, C., Williams, D. (2006). Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS2), 2004–2006 (computer file). ICPSR04652-v1. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin, Survey Center (producers). Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (distributor) 22 March 2007.Google Scholar
  56. Schultheiss, O. C., Schiepe-Tiska, A., & Rawolle, M. (2012). Hormone assays. In H. Cooper, P. M. Camic, D. L. Long, A. T. Panter, D. Rindskopf, & K. J. Sher (Eds.), APA handbook of research methods in psychology: Foundations, planning, measures, and psychometrics (Vol. 1, pp. 489–500). Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  57. Sharma, S., Mukherjee, S., Kumar, A., & Dillon, W. R. (2005). A simulation study to investigate the use of cutoff values for assessing model fit in covariance structure models. Journal of Business Research, 58, 935–943. doi: 10.1016/j.jbusres.2003.10.007 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Slavich, G.M., & Irwin, M.R. (in press). From stress to inflammation and major depressive disorder: A social signal transduction theory of depression. Psychological Bulletin. doi:  10.1037/a0035302
  59. South, S. J., & Lloyd, K. M. (1992). Marriage opportunities and family formation: Further implications of imbalanced sex ratios. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 54, 440–451. doi: 10.2307/353075 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Stevenson, B. E. (1995). Black family structure in colonial and antebellum Virginia: Amending the revisionist perspective. In M. B. Tucker & C. Mitchell-Kernan (Eds.), The decline in marriage among African Americans: Causes, consequences, and policy implications (pp. 27–56). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  61. Taylor, T. R., Kamarck, T. W., & Shiffman, S. (2004). Validation of the Detroit area study discrimination scale in a community sample of older African American adults: The Pittsburgh healthy heart program. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 11, 88–94. doi: 10.1207/s15327558ijbm1102_4 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Tice, D. M., & Bratslavsky, E. (2000). Giving into feel good: The place of emotion regulation in the context of general self-control. Psychological Inquiry, 11, 149–159. doi: 10.1207/S15327965PLI1103_03 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Trail, T. E., Goff, P. A., Bradbury, T. N., & Karney, B. R. (2012). The costs of racism for marriage: How racial discrimination hurts, and ethnic identity protects, newlywed marriages among Latinos. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38, 454–465. doi: 10.1177/0146167211429450 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Westen, D. (1994). Toward an integrative model of affect regulation: Applications to social-psychological research. Journal of Personality, 62, 641–647. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.1994.tb00312.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Williams, D. R., & Mohammed, S. A. (2009). Discrimination and racial disparities in health: Evidence and needed research. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 32, 20–47. doi: 10.1007/s10865-008-9185-0 PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Williams, D. R., Neighbors, H. W., & Jackson, J. S. (2003). Racial/ethnic discrimination and health: Findings from community studies. American Journal of Public Health, 93, 200–208. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.93.2.200 PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Williams, D. R., Yu, Y., Jackson, J. S., & Anderson, N. B. (1997). Racial differences in physical and mental health: Socio-economic status, stress and discrimination. Journal of Health Psychology, 2, 335–351. doi: 10.1177/135910539700200305 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychology, 2007 Percival Stern HallTulane UniversityNew OrleansUSA

Personalised recommendations