Members of the military sometimes possess traits that are not often found in the general population. One of these is resiliency. Although many nonmilitary individuals develop high levels of resiliency throughout life, military personnel are trained to adapt to challenging situations and to overcome adversity. This type of training strengthens resiliency and helps military personnel perform at peak levels, regardless of circumstances. Resiliency has many benefits, including buffering against negative mental and physical health outcomes. For individuals who face discrimination, resiliency can be a particularly beneficial character trait.
Melissa Ming Foynes of the National Center for PTSD at the Women’s Health Sciences Division in Boston wanted to determine how various types of discrimination affected military personnel and how resiliency influenced outcomes. Using a sample of more than 1,500 female and male Marine recruits, Foynes assessed levels of gender-based discrimination (GBD), race-based discrimination (RBD), and resiliency. She used physical fitness tests and subjective reports to measure physical and mental health outcomes. Foynes found that both GBD and RBD increased the risk of mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression for all participants, regardless of race or gender. She also found that when RBD was low, black participants outperformed their white counterparts on physical fitness tests, but whites scored higher than blacks when RBD was high. This suggests that resiliency remained strong among the black participants in the face of moderate RBD.
When Foynes looked further, she found that even though physical health varied based on RBD, self-reports provided by the Marines did not reveal the same negative effects. Also, Foynes discovered that the black women reported minimal negative effects for low levels of either GBD or RBD. Foynes believes that Marines, and military personnel in general, base their status on performance and may not see low levels of discrimination as detrimental to their ability to function as a soldier. For highly resilient women in particular, underreporting discrimination may be a protective coping mechanism that acts as buffer from stress. Women who minimize discrimination may feel a sense of control and mastery by doing so and may be better able to keep their self-worth and self-esteem intact than those who exacerbate discrimination.
Foynes also found that black men and women had increases in anxiety related to GBD, and the men had the most significant fluctuations when they felt they were being victimized based on gender. Foynes believes her results show that the extent of perceived and actual discrimination is equally as important as the type of discrimination. “Thus, directly assessing levels of both forms of discrimination, rather than presuming that certain levels of discrimination exist based on group membership, is essential in future research,” she added.
Foynes, M. M., Shipherd, J. C., Harrington, E. F. (2012). Race and gender discrimination in the Marines. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0030567
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