Anxiety, Stress, and Trauma Symptoms in African Americans: Negative Affectivity Does Not Explain the Relationship between Microaggressions and Psychopathology

  • Monnica T. Williams
  • Jonathan W. Kanter
  • Terence H. W. Ching


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.


Microaggressions 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.

Author Contribution

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.

Funding Information

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.


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Copyright information

© W. Montague Cobb-NMA Health Institute 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychological SciencesUniversity of ConnecticutStorrsUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA

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