Not Just Sticks and Stones: Indirect Ethnic Discrimination Leads to Greater Physiological Reactivity

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Objectives: We examined the effect of indirect ethnic discrimination on physiological reactivity (i.e., cortisol, blood pressure, heart rate) in Latino emerging adults. Method: Participants (N = 32) were randomly assigned to be exposed to indirect ethnic discrimination (experimental condition) or not (control condition) while undergoing a cognitive stress task. Results: Greater total cortisol output was observed in participants in the experimental condition, relative to those in the control condition. No significant differences in heart rate or blood pressure were noted. Conclusions: Results suggest that witnessing ethnic discrimination affects cortisol recovery responses, but not cardiovascular reactivity. Words that are not intentionally hurtful or directed at a specific person may still “hurt”—affecting biological processes associated with hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis and potentially leading to long-term health consequences.

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