The research briefing is a short introduction to interesting academic work.
According to a new study I conducted with clinical neuropsychologist Negar Fani and other colleagues, black women who have experienced more racism in their lifetime reacted more strongly to threatening brains, which could harm their long-term health.
I am part of a research team that has studied the ways in which stress related to trauma exposure affects the body and mind for more than 15 years. In our recent research, we have carefully studied the source of pressure that black Americans face disproportionately in the United States: racism.
My colleagues and I completed a study of 55 black women who reported how many of them had experienced traumatic experiences, such as childhood abuse and physical or sexual violence, as well as racial discrimination, and were treated unfairly because of their race or ethnicity.
We ask them to focus on a task that requires attention while looking at images that are stressful. We use functional MRI to observe their brain activity during that time.
We found that black women who reported more experiences of racial discrimination had more reactive activities in brain regions related to vigilance and vigilance threats (ie, the middle occipital cortex and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex). Their reaction goes beyond that caused by traumatic experiences unrelated to racism. Our research shows that racism has a trauma-like impact on the health of black women; regular attention to the threat of racism may tax important body regulation tools and worsen brain health.
Other trauma studies have shown that this sustained response to threats increases the risk of mental health disorders and future brain health problems.
Why it matters
Compared with white Americans, black Americans continue to suffer from health disparities, including a higher risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as stroke, cognitive decline, and Alzheimer’s disease. Although studies have always shown that the chronic stress of racism can penetrate into the hearts of the people and bring lasting health consequences to American blacks over time, few studies have explored the effects of racism on brain function and health.
There is a long history of research linking traumatic experiences (such as childhood abuse, physical assault, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder) to changes in brain function that lead to negative health outcomes. Our research is one of the first to consider how the brain responds to experiences of racial discrimination that transcend other traumatic stressors.
Black women may be particularly wary of threats in their environment because they have to adapt to living in a social space where racism persists for a long time. Understanding this may be a step forward in research and advocacy efforts aimed at reducing health inequalities.
Don’t know what
Our research results show that the racist experience of blacks affects the brain’s response and adaptation, which deserves more research attention. My colleagues and I believe that neurobiological research has only just begun to properly investigate the impact of racism on the health differences seen in this population. Our research has a preliminary understanding of the need to consider the traumatic nature of racism in black lives.
More research is needed at all stages of life, including childhood, to understand how and when some blacks are highly alert to the threats associated with racial discrimination, and how this affects their health.
I plan to do more research inspired by the results of this research.
Fear can bring stress to the body, but it can also play a protective role. I hope to better understand the costs and benefits of fear to threats when some black Americans have been oppressed for a long time.
I am also interested in how blacks describe, experience, and respond to potential threats when the threat comes from individuals in positions of power that are expected to protect and serve.
This article is republished from – The Conversation – Read the – original article.