Pathways from exposure to racial/ethnic discrimination to depression: Testing a social-cognitive model

Emilia E. Mikrut, Luke H. Keating, Patrick V. Barnwell, Loriann Cioffi, Destiny Vega, Richard J. Contrada, Elizabeth Brondolo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Rationale and Objective: Interpersonal racial/ethnic discrimination is a risk factor for depression across the lifespan in minoritized racial/ethnic groups. This study tests a model proposing that social cognitive processes, including relational schemas, mediate the link between discrimination and depression. Relational schemas enable individuals to form mental representations of others, reflecting prior social learning and generating expectations about future social relations. Racism-related relational schemas include, among others, concerns about being rejected or invalidated, concerns about confirming negative stereotypes held by others, and cynical mistrust of others. Prior studies have typically examined the mediating role of one or two relational schemas in the association between discrimination and depression; less is known about the unique and combined effects of multiple dimensions of racism-related social cognition. Methods: The model was tested in a convenience sample of ethnically diverse, non-white participants recruited from two sites, a community medical center (N = 136; Mage = 38, SD = 13.0) and a private university (N = 120; Mage = 19.4, SD = 1.3), yielding a consolidated sample of 256 participants (64% women). Data were collected between September 2016 and April 2018. Participants completed paper-and-pencil self-report measures of exposure to interpersonal discrimination, depressive symptoms, and eight measures of relational schemas. Results: Confirmatory factor analysis indicated that the eight relational schemas defined three primary dimensions: concerns about rejection and invalidation, social vigilance, and mistrust. A structural equation model in which the association between exposure to discrimination and depressive symptoms operates through latent factors representing three social-cognitive dimensions demonstrated adequate fit (CFI = 0.96, RMSEA = 0.06, SRMR = 0.04). A significant mediational effect was found only for concerns about rejection and invalidation. Conclusion: The conceptual model supported by this study may help inform psychological interventions aimed at mitigating the detrimental effects of racial/ethnic discrimination on mental health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number114558
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
StatePublished - Jan 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


  • Depression
  • Racial/ethnic discrimination
  • Relational schemas
  • Social cognition


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