Posted on December 20, 2011

Concerns About Appearing Prejudiced Get Under the Skin: Stress Responses to Interracial Contact in the Moment and Across Time

Sophie Trawalter et al., Science Direct, December 13, 2011


Many White Americans are concerned about appearing prejudiced. How these concerns affect responses during actual interracial interactions, however, remains understudied. The present work examines stress responses to interracial contact–both in the moment, during interracial interactions (Study 1), and over time as individuals have repeated interracial contact (Study 2). Results of Study 1 revealed that concerns about appearing prejudiced were associated with heightened stress responses during interracial encounters (Study 1). White participants concerned about appearing prejudiced exhibited significant increases in cortisol “stress hormone” levels as well as increases in anxious behavior during interracial but not same-race contact. Participants relatively unconcerned about appearing prejudiced did not exhibit these stress responses. Study 2 examined stress responses to interracial contact over an entire academic year. Results revealed that White participants exhibited shifts in cortisol diurnal rhythms on days after interracial contact. Moreover, participants’ cortisol rhythms across the academic year, from fall to spring, were related to their concerns about appearing prejudiced and their interracial contact experiences. Taken together, these data offer the first evidence that chronic concerns about appearing prejudiced are related to short- and longer-term stress responses to interracial contact. Implications for life in diverse spaces are discussed.