Racial Discrimination and Acute Physiological Responses Among Black Young Adults: The Role of Racial Identity

Vanessa V. Volpe, Daniel B. Lee, Lori S. Hoggard, Danny Rahal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Purpose: Racial discrimination has long-term consequences for cardiovascular health, potentially by dysregulating acute physiological responses. However, the role of psychological factors that may be protective or increase vulnerability for dysregulated responses, such as racial identity, remains unclear. This study examines the association between racial discrimination and acute parasympathetic responses, and the role of racial centrality, private regard, and public regard in this association. Methods: Black young adults (N = 119, Mage = 19.45) recruited from a predominantly White institution in the southeastern United States completed an online survey (in which racial discrimination, racial identity, and control variables were reported) and a laboratory visit, during which they were exposed to a vignette of racial discrimination while their parasympathetic activity (indexed by respiratory sinus arrhythmia) was recorded. Results: While racial discrimination was not associated with respiratory sinus arrhythmia reactivity or recovery, centrality moderated this association such that more frequent racial discrimination was associated with greater parasympathetic reactivity and recovery only among participants low in racial centrality. Neither private regard nor public regard emerged as significant moderators. Conclusions: This study is the first to show that lower levels of racial centrality can mitigate the association between discrimination and acute parasympathetic responses, which has important implications for initiatives aimed at reducing cardiovascular risk for Black young adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)179-185
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Adolescent Health
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


  • Black Americans
  • Racial discrimination
  • Racial identity
  • Respiratory sinus arrhythmia
  • Young adults


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