Graduation Year

2006

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Granting Department

Psychology

Major Professor

Kristen Salomon, Ph.D.

Keywords

Race, Stereotype, Health, Vagal, Parasympathetic

Abstract

African Americans are at a greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease and associated risk factors than are Whites, and recent research has suggested that the effects of racial discrimination are a significant contributor to this disparity. Thus, a preattentive bias and vigilance for threat might serve as a mechanism through which experienced racial discrimination would negatively impact cardiovascular health. A study was conducted to investigate the physiological and attentional underpinnings of vigilance for discriminatory threat via examination of phasic heart period (HP) responses to cued threat and nonthreat stimuli. Thirty African American and forty-two European American undergraduate students from a large urban university participated in the study. Phasic HP reactions of participants were recorded during an S1-S2 procedure where cued stereotype-related threatening, nonstereotype-related threatening, and nonthreatening stimuli were presented. It was hypothesized that Blacks, more than Whites, would show: smaller magnitude and impaired habituation of cardiac orienting to neutral words; acceleration of heart rate in response to threat words; and a conditioned anticipatory heart rate deceleration to threat words over repeated trials. However, results did not support hypotheses; neither Whites nor Blacks exhibited significant changes in phasic heart period in response to cued stimuli.

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