Study Examines Three Types of Stress Among African-American Youth

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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  • Andree


    June 30th, 2012 at 5:41 AM

    I have been fortunate enough to live a fairly priveleged life all my life so I have little in the way of knowledge when it comes to having faced some of the same things that many of these African American youth have faced growing up.

    However I do know that on the surface this looks like life experiences and fears that can’t be overcome. But they can be if more of us who have never had to face this have the guts to stand up and do something about it. When we see a child in need or in danger, why not take a stand and say that this is not acceptable?

    The only way for change to happen is for those in a position to affect that change decide that they have had enough and that we cam’t allow another generation of this community to be sunk into the depths that poverty and lack of education bring on.

  • Vaughn


    June 30th, 2012 at 6:46 AM

    Think of how your own life could have been dramatically impacted had you grwon up with so many of the fears and environmental factors that black youth have had to contend with over the years. Would you have been half as successful as you are today? Now think about the kids who have been able to become so much more than their childhood. Pretty amazing, huh?

  • Sylence


    June 30th, 2012 at 6:07 PM

    lol Keep dreaming up excuses for the filthy nogs.

  • leslie


    July 1st, 2012 at 4:12 AM

    Sylence- what a terrible and hurtful thing to say! You ought to be ashamed of yourself for feeling that way and expressing those views here.
    I don’t think that there is an intelligent person who views this as an excuse, just as the reality of what this community faces everyday.
    the youth growing up in this environment are really to have problems that many of us can’t understand, but that doesn’t give us the liberty to criticize them for that or to shun our responsibility to help make change so that these children do not have to live their lives with this stress.
    It is not the actions of one person that will change everything, but you know that your words and actions can catch on with others.

  • Graham Styles

    Graham Styles

    July 2nd, 2012 at 4:21 AM

    Environmental factors such as what kind of parenting home you come from or even what kind of neighborhood you grow up in, those things can have a huge effect on how you feel about life in general and your skills for coping with the things that everyday life can often force you to deal with.

    To suggest that this is easily overcome or that you can just wake up and shake it off is a really big mistaken belief. When I look back to my own childhood, it’s funny the things that I thought that would never impact me do, from the way that I believe politically to even how I part my hair!

    These are not things that are so easy to let go of, it follows you, and when you are young and being raised in an environment that is far from healthy, then it is little wonder that many of these children grow up and become adults who struggle through life.

    They have never been given the skill sets that they need to be a success.

  • Ross


    July 2nd, 2012 at 10:58 AM

    This study follows the participants to the age of 22. Then what? What happens to those stress levels at the point in their lives when they are now really expected to begin contributing to society- having a family, holding down a job, paying the bills. What happens then? I know that for me that was when my own stress really kicked into overdrive, and that wa shvaing a supportive family as well as the feeling that I had a large network of support to draw upon when or if I needed it. What happens to those who find they don’t have any of that?

  • DW


    July 2nd, 2012 at 12:23 PM

    It’s something that is not going to change overnight all these issues that Black people and especially the young people face.So it would be better to identify and devise methods of coping with stressors that contribute.The more specific and precise the better.These kind of studies need to be lauded because not only are they working in their field but are also working towards helping a social cause.

  • bailee L

    bailee L

    July 5th, 2012 at 4:37 AM

    u can’t take them outta the home, so u gotta take the stress outta the home, but how?

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