Intergroup Contexts

This week we seek to understand the stress response in individuals who are faced with prejudices, interracial contact, and health disparities. We learn that interracial interaction can produce an increased stress response in white individuals with high external motivation (Trawalter, 2011). Additionally, there are many health disparities associated with being a stigmatized group. Furthermore, we learn that individuals who are at the lower SES have much more problems than individuals on the higher end of the SES spectrum. Sadly to say, it was not until I moved from my world in El Paso that I noticed these disparities around me.

Growing up in a city that is 80% Hispanic and 96% Spanish speaking, I never really experienced or witnessed prejudice. Additionally, El Paso is one of the cheapest cities to live in with the average income being $45,000, so while there were some individuals that were rich in our city, a majority of the people I interacted with were on the low end of the SES. Living in El Paso is kinda like living with a huge family where everyone knows the struggle of making money or being Hispanic (although there really was no stress associated with being Hispanic since we all were!). It was not until I interned at UT Austin when I noticed the differences in interracial interactions and SES. I made an observation one day when eating at a restaurant called Odd Duck. It was a tapas restaurant where small portions were served with a very large bill attached to them (I would have never chosen this restaurant to eat at, but I had no choice). While eating at the restaurant I noticed a majority of the people there were white and old. We left and passed a McDonalds where I saw many African Americans going in and out of. This was the first time I noticed what everyone else in the US talked about, White privilege. It saddens me that it took me so long to acknowledge such a problem was actually in the US because I was shielded by it all in my little piece of heaven where it normally doesn’t happen. So reading the articles this week that sought to understand how these disadvantages stigmatized groups face could lead to health disparities/problems made me look back at that experience.

In the Sapolsky chapter, there is a section that discusses socioeconomic status, stress, and disease where he describes how being on the lower end of the SES have increased health disparities such as increased glucocorticoids, increased stress-related diseases and lack of options to make your life better. While we weren’t dirt poor, my dad was the only one that worked in my family. Even though we lived in one of the cheapest cities in the US, having three kids and a wife to be financially responsible for still made money very tight. My parents also never attended college, so the job my dad had didn’t pay well at all and was actually very dangerous. I remember the constant stress my dad was under when he constantly wondered how he was going to pay the mortgage while also getting things my brothers and I wanted on top of having to work in a career he hated but didn’t have a choice but to stay in. We were never able to take family vacations to exotic places every year and we never had savings – ever. So when one of us got sick we never wanted to go to the doctor because we didn’t want to have another bill my dad had to find a way to pay. Reading this chapter really made me analyze how it was like growing up because of our situation and how that made me the person I am today.

In the event that my family or I needed to go to the doctors, I noticed how difficult it would be for the doctors to treat the patients who only spoke Spanish.  This doctor-patient interaction is discussed in the article by Major, Mendes, & Dovidio (2013). Specifically, the paper goes on to say that medical care professionals who treat patients from a disadvantaged group tend to be less effective and less helpful for that member in the disadvantaged group (Major, Mendes, & Dovidio, 2013). I can see how this is true when the doctor who is treating patients that only speak Spanish would have a hard time talking to patients in depth about their diagnoses when the doctor doesn’t know how to even explain the patient’s symptoms in another language, upon other things. Additionally, I can see how it can be hard for doctors to have concerns about appearing prejudice when speaking to Mexican individuals. They might try to talk slowly or in simple terms, making them seem prejudiced. This phenomenon is talked about extensively in the Trawalter and colleagues (2011) article where they conducted two experiments to determine whether individual’s concerns about appearing prejudiced would lead to an increased stress response during interracial contact. The first study showed that there was an increase stress response during these interactions in individuals with high external motivation (a high motivation to respond without prejudiced) as measured by cortisol. Study 2 sought to understand if this interaction was a chronic stressor and would change the cortisol response days after the interracial interaction. Studying cortisol awakening response, the authors found the psychological stress that was brought on by interracial interaction was still present days later for high external motivation individuals (Trawalter, Adam, Chase-Lansdale, & Richeson, 2011).

Besides looking at cortisol, studies are currently examining Telomere length as well to evaluate Worldview Verification Theory that is the inconsistency in a preexisting expectation of justice and a personal experience of injustice can the stress response in racial minorities (Lucas et al., 2017). The use of biological measures of stress response will hopefully help the general population understand the struggles individuals from diverse populations face.


Lucas, T., Pierce, J., Lumley, M.A., Granger, D.A., Lin, J., & Epel, E.S. (2017). Telomere length and procedural justice predict stress reactivity responses to unfair outcomes in African Americans. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 86, 104-109.

Major, B., Mendes, W.B., & Dovidio, J.F. (2013). Intergroup relations and health disparities: A social psychological perspective. Health Psychology, 32(5), 514-524.

Sapolsky, R.M. (2004) Why zebras don’t get ulcers: A guide to stress, stress related diseases, and coping. New York: W.H. Freeman.

Trawalter, S., Adam, E.K., Chase-Lansdale, L.P., & Richeson, J.A. (2012). Concerns about appearing prejudiced get under the skin: Stress responses to interracial contact int he moment and across time. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48, 682-693.


  1. Interesting post, Ceci! Hearing about the homogeneity of your hometown made me think about Sapolksy’s discussion of how it is not necessarily an absolute state (i.e., low income) that negatively affects people, but rather their perception of themselves relative to others. I am curious how your perspective of your hometown may have changed when you moved away and saw more racial and socioeconomic variety around you? My guess is there are probably negative and positive consequences of this.

  2. Interesting to think about moving from being surrounded by people from one’s own ingroup to not; context is everything!

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