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Studies find racism causes psychological harm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Racism is a problem that’s at the forefront of Americans' minds lately. In a new research report published last year, more than eight in 10 Black Americans said they thought blacks are treated less fairly than whites by the criminal justice system, in dealing with police, and in hiring, pay, and promotions. But does dealing with discrimination also affect a person’s health?

Scores of studies found that racism causes many types of psychological harm. Now, scientists are finding out that it may also affect a person’s health.

In a review of 121 studies, researchers found adolescents between ages 12 and 18 who experienced discrimination were significantly more likely to have depression and anxiety. Other research has suggested victims of racism reported a lower quality of life, higher levels of stress, and poorer overall health.

“To make people feel really hopeless and fatigued and like they’re constantly fighting an uphill battle just to be themselves,” said Wendy DuBow, a senior social scientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

In a recent study, scientists looked at 40 Mexican-American students. They found the participants who watched a stigmatizing video performed slower on a test where they could win money. The authors say exposure to the negative stereotyping changed the behavior of the subcortical nucleus accumbens, an area of the brain associated with the anticipation of reward and punishment. Just another way racism can affect the body in a negative way.

The research team at the University of California, Santa Barbara that performed the study on racism and the brain plan to conduct further experiments with a larger, more diverse group of participants.