African Americans are often exposed to experiences that are vastly different from most of their White peers. Statistically, African-American children are more likely than White children to be raised in communities that are socioeconomically poor and infiltrated with more crime, violence, and substance use. African-American youth are less likely to receive a high school diploma than their peers and more likely to be a victim of murder. One of the most significant differences among these two races is discrimination. In most cases, African-American children will have already experienced some form of discrimination before they reach their 10th birthday.
Although the effects of discrimination have been well researched, the additional stressors that face African-American youth have not been studied in comparison to discriminatory stress. Therefore, Frederick X. Gibbons of the Department of Psychology at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire recently led a study that looked at how three specific types of stress among African-American youth affect their life history strategies (LHS) in later years. Specifically, Gibbons analyzed how family stress, environmental stress, and discriminatory stress affected the coping strategies and LHS of African-American participants as they progressed from age 10 to age 22.
After reviewing the data collected over several waves, Simpson discovered that each of the stressors impacted the LHS of the youth in unique ways. He said, “The census data and their self-reports suggested that many of these Black adolescents were experiencing elevated levels of stress emanating from the environments in which they were being raised.” However, Simpson also noted that discriminatory stress that was evident as early as age 10 increased the risk for later aggressive behavior and future risk taking in the form of sexual partners and substance misuse. He explained that the fast LHS trajectories among these youth could be due to their need for short-term results in a world that they believe has an uncertain future.
Gibbons, F. X., Roberts, M. E., Beach, S. R. H., Simons, R. L., Gerrard, M., Li, Z., et al. (2012). The impact of stress on the life history strategies of African American adolescents: Cognitions, genetic moderation, and the role of discrimination. Developmental Psychology 48.3: 722-739.
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