Racial identity and autonomic responses to racial discrimination


  • This research was supported by funds from the National Science Foundation (SES-0932268) awarded to EWN. We wish to thank Camara Jules P. Harell for comments on earlier versions of this manuscript.

Address correspondence to: Enrique W. Neblett, Jr., 250 Davie Hall, Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC, 27599-3270, USA. E-mail: eneblett@unc.edu


Several studies identify racial identity—the significance and meaning that individuals attribute to race—as a mitigating factor in the association between racial discrimination and adjustment. In this study, we employed a visual imagery paradigm to examine whether racial identity would moderate autonomic responses to blatant and subtle racial discrimination analogues with Black and White perpetrators. We recruited 105 African American young adults from a public, southeastern university in the United States. The personal significance of race as well as personal feelings about African Americans and feelings about how others view African Americans moderated autonomic responses to the vignettes. We use polyvagal theory and a stress, appraisal, and coping framework to interpret our results with an eye toward elucidating the ways in which racial identity may inform individual differences in physiological responses to racial discrimination.