Anxiety, Stress, and Trauma Symptoms in African Americans: Negative Affectivity Does Not Explain the Relationship between Microaggressions and Psychopathology
Prior research has demonstrated a clear relationship between experiences of racial microaggressions and various indicators of psychological unwellness. One concern with these findings is that the role of negative affectivity, considered a marker of neuroticism, has not been considered. Negative affectivity has previously been correlated to experiences of racial discrimination and psychological unwellness and has been suggested as a cause of the observed relationship between microaggressions and psychopathology. We examined the relationships between self-reported frequency of experiences of microaggressions and several mental health outcomes (i.e., anxiety [Beck Anxiety Inventory], stress [General Ethnic and Discrimination Scale], and trauma symptoms [Trauma Symptoms of Discrimination Scale]) in 177 African American and European American college students, controlling for negative affectivity (the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule) and gender. Results indicated that African Americans experience more racial discrimination than European Americans. Negative affectivity in African Americans appears to be significantly related to some but not all perceptions of the experience of discrimination. A strong relationship between racial mistreatment and symptoms of psychopathology was evident, even after controlling for negative affectivity. In summary, African Americans experience clinically measurable anxiety, stress, and trauma symptoms as a result of racial mistreatment, which cannot be wholly explained by individual differences in negative affectivity. Future work should examine additional factors in these relationships, and targeted interventions should be developed to help those suffering as a result of racial mistreatment and to reduce microaggressions.
KeywordsMicroaggressions Racism Affectivity Negative affect Ethnic identity
This research was supported in part by a grant to Monnica T. Williams from the American Psychological Foundation. The authors would like to acknowledge Marlena Debreaux, M.A., and Judy Mier-Chairez, B.A., for assistance with data collection and Broderick Sawyer, M.S., for measurement development.
The first author conceptualized the research, conducted the literature search, analyzed the data, and wrote the first draft of the manuscript. All authors contributed to the final version of the manuscript.
This research was supported in part by a grant to the first author from the American Psychological Foundation.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Ethics Approval and Consent to Participate
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
Conflict of Interest
The authors report no conflicts of interest.
- 5.Janssen I, Hanssen M, Bak M, Bijl RV, De Graaf R, Vollehergh W, et al. Discrimination and delusional ideation. Br J Psychiatry. 2003;H12:7J–6.Google Scholar
- 6.Pierce CM. Offensive mechanisms. In: Barbour F, editor. The Black seventies. Boston: Porter Sargent; 1970. p. 265–82.Google Scholar
- 8.Essed P. Everyday racism: reports from women of two cultures. Alameda: Hunter House Publishers; 1990.Google Scholar
- 15.Williams MT, Taylor RJ, Mouzon DM, Oshin L, Himle JA, Chatters LM. Discrimination and symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder among African Americans. Am J Orthopsychiatry. 2017. https://doi.org/10.1037/ort0000285.
- 36.Williams MT, Printz D, De Lapp RCT Assessing racial trauma in African Americans with the Trauma Symptoms of Discrimination Scale. Presented at the annual convention of the Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, San Diego, CA. 2017.Google Scholar
- 41.Williams MT, Duque G, Chapman LK, Wetterneck CT, De Lapp RCT. Ethnic identity and regional differences in mental health in a national sample of African American young adults. J Racial Ethn Health Disparities. In press;Google Scholar
- 46.McGilloway A, Hall RE, Lee T, Bhui KSA. Systematic review of personality disorder, race and ethnicity: prevalence, aetiology and treatment. BMC Psychiatry. 2010;10Google Scholar
- 51.Williams MT, Peña A, Mier-Chairez J. Assessing and treating racism-related stress and trauma among Latinos. In: Benuto LT, editor. Toolkit for counseling Spanish-speaking clients. Springer; 2017 (in press).Google Scholar
- 55.Woo B. Racial discrimination and mental health in the USA: testing the reverse racism hypothesis. J Racial Ethn Health Disparities In press. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40615-017-0421-6.
- 57.Comas-Díaz L. Racial trauma recovery: a race-informed therapeutic approach to racial wounds. In: Alvarez AN, Liang CTH, Neville HA, editors. The cost of racism for people of color: contextualizing experiences of discrimination. Cultural, racial, and ethnic psychology book series. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; 2016. p. 249–72.Google Scholar