Black women who have experienced more racism throughout their lives have stronger brain responses to threat, which may hurt their long-term health, according to a new study I conducted with clinical neuropsychologist Negar Fani and other colleagues.
I am part of a research team that for more than 15 years has studied the ways stress related to trauma exposure can affect the mind and body. In our recent study, we took a closer look at a stressor that Black Americans disproportionately face in the U.S.: racism.
My colleagues and I completed research with 55 Black women who reported how much they’d been exposed to traumatic experiences, such as childhood abuse and physical or sexual violence, and to racial discrimination, experiencing unfair treatment due to race or ethnicity.
We asked them to focus on a task that required attention while simultaneously looking at stressful images. We used functional MRI to observe their brain activity during that time.
We found that Black women who reported more experiences of racial discrimination had more response activity in brain regions that are associated with vigilance and watching out for threat—that is, the middle occipital cortex and ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Their reactions were above and beyond the response caused by traumatic experiences not related to racism. Our research suggests that racism had a trauma-like effect on Black women’s health; being regularly attuned to the threat of racism can tax important body-regulation tools and worsen brain health.
Other trauma research shows that this kind of continuous response to threat can increase the risk of mental health disorders and additional future brain health problems.
Source: Spokesman Recorder