Do People Respond to Racial Stress and Nonracial Stress Similarly?

According to a recent study led by Lori S. Hoggard of the Department of Psychology at the University of Michigan, African-Americans tend to view racially stressful events and nonracially stressful events similarly. However, they respond differently to each type of stressor. Racial discrimination and prejudice still exist among many different minority populations. The stress of racial tension has been shown to have negative emotional consequences and can lead to anger, frustration, violence, fear, worry, and even shame. African-Americans are often the target of racism, and for young adults who are just developing effective coping strategies, this type of stress can be significantly disturbing. Because young adults in general, and college students in particular, are at increased risk for life stressors, Hoggard chose this segment of the population for her study.

Hoggard recruited 35 African-American college students and had them complete a daily diary for 20 days. She instructed the participants to write down any stressful events that they experienced during the study period and asked them to describe the stressors as either racially motivated or nonracial in nature. She also gathered information from the participants about how they viewed the stressors and how they reacted to them. Hoggard found that in general, the racial stressors and nonracial stressors were viewed similarly. But the students in the study reacted differently to each type of stress.

The racial stressors resulted in more negative coping strategies. “While participants were less likely to use planful problem solving for racially stressful situations compared with the nonracially stressful situations, they were more likely to use avoidance and confrontive coping,” said Hoggard. These results suggest that although stressors may be outwardly perceived as similar, they are internally perceived as different and result in different emotional responses. Hoggard suggests that future work be devoted to disseminating the mechanisms behind these responses, as many of these negative coping strategies can lead to other mental health problems such as depression or anxiety.

Hoggard, L. S., Byrd, C. M., Sellers, R. M. (2012). Comparison of African American college students’ coping with racially and nonracially stressful events. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029437

Related articles:
Building a Whole Self: Multidimensional Identities
Factors Affecting Mental Health in Minority Populations

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  • jasmine

    August 17th, 2012 at 10:29 AM

    Judging only from my own personal experiences, I tend to feel a lot more anger when I am dealing with stress that surrounds racial implications over those that are non racial in nature. This type of stress makes me want to scream and let that anger out while the other keeps me just plodding along methodically until I come up with a solution for reducing the stress.

  • larry

    August 17th, 2012 at 11:11 AM

    here’s something i have always wondered-with so much focus on this entire RACISM thing,don’t you think it is possible that even nonracial discrimination or victimization could be perceived as racist?Think of an office wherein the boss is unruly and especially so to under performing employees.Now if he behaves in a negative way with a member of an ethnic minority then the one at the receiving end would term that as racism.But the same boss would have done the same thing for a White employee too.So how does all this play out?

  • Allyson

    August 17th, 2012 at 2:30 PM

    So all stress is not alike I see. There may actually be times when you feel differently about these different stressful remarks or situations and not even realize that you are having a different reaction or that they are eliciting differing emotional responses within you. This is something that could have a profound effect especially on young people who are trying so hard to find their own way but are facing these many obstacles and struggles that they are not even sure how to overcome. This is definitely something to think more about.

  • tabby elmore

    August 18th, 2012 at 8:00 AM

    Of course you don’t respond in the same ways because this is the kind of insult that always get people of color (like me!) all riled up. There are just some things I can’t take and racial intolerance happens to be one of them. It amazes me the amount of ignorance and hate that many still walk around with today, and I am not going to ever stand for it if that is directed toward me or my family.

  • W.Y

    August 18th, 2012 at 10:06 AM

    The main problem with racial stress is that it makes you feel like you are different from others. In cases of nonracial stress while it is still disturbing to you on a mental level there is no feeling of being ‘alienated’, maybe this is what causes the difference between the two.Having gone through racial stress before I can totally connect with this.

  • keith

    August 19th, 2012 at 5:11 AM

    It is typical that we lose our head when the stress is racially motivated and created, that feels like such a personal attack that I know that just for me that gets the adrenaline rushing

  • rachel f

    August 19th, 2012 at 11:54 PM

    well lets put it this way-everybody experiences stress but not everybody experiences racial stress..there is a lot more that a person goes through when subjected to abuse or behavior of a racial nature..there are many things that go through the victim’s mind, about the past,about how he views himself etcetera..

  • Bob Hopkins

    August 20th, 2012 at 4:33 AM

    Stress is stress to me. The racial kind might hurt a little more, but in the end is has the same negative results on the body. Am I right? I can see something good that could come out of it though- it could make you want to confront and change stupid beliefs that others might have.

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