The cardiovascular and psychological effects of coping with perceived ethnic / racial discrimination.
Smith, Barry D.
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Most previous studies have demonstrated the superiority of active coping, but less is known about the role of coping in perceived ethnic and racial discrimination. The purpose of this study was to examine whether active or passive coping is more effective in situations of low vs. high perceived controllability over a discriminatory event. Fifty-two African-American participants were randomized to one of four conditions: High Control / Active Coping; High Control / Passive Coping; Low Control / Active Coping; and Low Control / Passive Coping. Before and after the coping task, participants played a simulated computer game in which they were ostracized due to race. Continuous measures of heart rate and blood pressure were collected, in addition to periodic measurements of mood, anxiety, and self-efficacy. It was first hypothesized that active coping and high controllability would be associated with greater decreases in cardiovascular reactivity / recovery, negative mood, and anxiety. Second, it was hypothesized that there would be an interaction between coping and control. Finally, it was hypothesized that individuals in the Low Control/Passive Coping condition would exhibit less cardiovascular reactivity / recovery, negative mood and anxiety, and higher self-efficacy when the uncontrollable discriminatory event was reintroduced. Data were analyzed using reactivity and recovery scores in a series of ANCOVAs. Results supported the benefits of active coping and high controllability, specifically in reference to negative mood. However, active coping was also associated with significantly longer diastolic blood pressure and heart rate recovery times. Furthermore, significant interactions were observed between coping and control for negative mood and anxiety. However, results did not support the hypothesis that the Low Control/Passive Coping group was more resilient during the second discriminatory event compared to the other groups, as this group scored significantly lower on subjective self-efficacy than all other conditions. Post hoc analyses largely confirmed these findings, but also demonstrated additional null results. Results suggest high controllability and active coping may be more advantageous for self-reported psychological than for cardiovascular indices, providing support for the concept of John Henryism. Implications for future work, including basic and applied research, are discussed.