Do trait psychological characteristics moderate sympathetic arousal to racial discrimination exposure in a natural setting?

Elizabeth B. Jelsma, Bridget J. Goosby, Jacob E. Cheadle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Personality and psychological traits are known to influence how individuals react to and cope with stress, and thus, have downstream health and aging consequences. However, research considering psychological health traits as individual-level difference factors moderating the links been racism-related stress and health for racial and ethnic minorities in the United States is rare. Using intensive daily diaries and a wearable sensor that continuously recorded sympathetic nervous system arousal in a sample of racial and ethnic minority college students (80% African American, first-generation Black, or African; 20% Latinx), we linked arousal to racism-related experiences dynamically throughout the day as participants naturally went about their lives. Findings suggest that multiple traits are associated with increased arousal in real time when interpersonal discrimination is perceived, but that only anger and anxiety also predicted increased arousal during moments of rumination and reflection on race-related inequities. Vicarious discrimination exposure moments were also linked to suppressed arousal in general, but particularly for more anxious individuals. We use a stress appraisal and coping framework to elucidate the ways in which individual psychological differences may inform physiological responses to race-related stress. The biopsychosocial pathways by which cognitive appraisal and interpersonal race-related stress contribute to racial health disparities are also discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere13763
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • EDA
  • electrodermal activity
  • psychological traits
  • racial discrimination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Biological Psychiatry


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