Intergroup Context

Reading the articles this week really hit home – especially growing up as a Latino in a low SES community, raised by a single mom (who was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder), and a brother involved with gangs. Sapolsky (2004) couldn’t have said it better when he said being poor brings more psychological and physical stressors – and often poorer people can’t cope with these stressors efficiently. I say that because I’ve seen first-hand what these stressors have done to my mom over the years. From being emotionally abused by my father to being the only parent with a job to being in credit card debt to living paycheck by paycheck to becoming a citizen – she’s had to somehow figure things out. The irony in this week’s articles is that my mom works at a university medical center, but felt too stressed when workers were required to learn new computer programs (as she barely knows how to work a computer), so she decided to stop going to work each morning to avoid the embarrassment and stress that came along with working on a computer. She would sleep all day not wanting to do anything. After months of missing multiple workdays, my family (especially her sisters) talked her into going to a therapist, in which they went with her each week. She was then diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and while she still has her moments – she’s doing a lot better. I wanted to share this story because I think this example adds on a feature of stress for groups of people that the articles didn’t particularly mention. In this age of technology, many workers who grew up in low SES communities or migrated from another country for greater opportunities (as my mom did) didn’t have the opportunity or resources to learn how to use some technological devices. The fear of losing a job, due to the lack of skills required on a computer or other technological devices may develop chronic stress – as some of these workers may be working solely to provide for their family. This may not be just an issue for poorer people, but for older people as well. It might be the case that older people are less interested in adapting with newer times, which could potentially backfire if their company advances their technological tools.

In Major et al. (2013) we learn how severe of an issue health disparities are in the United States, as Latino men are 63% and women 150% more risk of stomach cancer compared to their White counterparts. These disparities have been shown to be horrific for numerous disadvantaged social groups (e.g. race, sex, SES). Similar to my earlier example, Major et al. (2013) explains that when disadvantaged groups of people are threatened they feel defeated and powerless – which over time will turn into disengagement, where there is no attempt being made for coping with the problem. Major et al. (2013) emphasizes that people may cope through compensation (i.e. working extra hard), suppressing activated negative group stereotypes (i.e. attempting to disprove stereotypes by your work ethic/academic performance), and by using avoidance – like what my mom did. Unfortunately, each of these coping strategies come with consequences that may increase the risk of diseases and illnesses. For example, avoidance coping strategies may lead to more risky behaviors like smoking, substance abuse, drinking and comfort eating – which have all been linked to increased risks of depression, cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune diseases. Nonetheless, regardless if you cope or not, disadvantaged social groups are still at risk of health issues by simply living and interacting with people of different races and statuses. On the other hand, when people from these groups attempt to seek help they find themselves even more disadvantaged based on stereotypes related to their group. Major et al. (2013) reviewed how physicians reported spending less time treating obese patients, and were less likely to recommend appropriate medical treatments to Black patients after reading a vignette. This then leads disadvantaged groups of people to become more suspicious that they are being mistreated due to prejudicial attitudes from health professionals – which predicts the likeliness of Blacks scheduling and attending appointments with White physicians and minority women pursuing recommended tests and preventive services (Major et al., 2013). Also, White physicians who scored high in implicit racial bias perceived Blacks as less warm and friendly – which could explain their lack of medical recommendations towards Blacks. That being said, Lucas et al. (2017) discussed how low expectations of procedural justice may negatively affect coping strategies regarding health.

While Major et al. (2013) described the intergroup structure and individual dynamics of the health care system and how it facilitates both explicit and implicit biases towards patients, Trawalter et al. (2012) evaluated how everyday (non-physicians) advantaged people may also experience stress while interacting with individuals of another race. More specifically, this research examined how Whites who are externally motivated (EM) to respond to others without prejudice become more anxious and attempt to avoid contact. In the first experiment, Trawalter et al. (2012) found that after having an interracial interactions Whites had increased levels of stress via nonverbal anxiety and cortisol levels during the interaction. In the second, the researchers discovered that Whites with high-EM who had more interracial interactions throughout a school year had a flatter cortisol slope – and this pattern has been associated with chronic stress exposure and negative health outcomes (Trawalter et al., 2012). After reading this article I became interested in understanding how much of an increase of cortisol levels will Whites with high-EM have after having an interracial interaction with a discussion about race issues in America. In addition, I am curious on how stress levels will change depending on how the discussion is framed – either as a topic of White privilege or Black disadvantages.

One thought on “Intergroup Context

  1. Jay, thanks for bringing home the real-world consequences of the concepts we’re reading about. Privilege can be like wearing ultra-light rose-colored glasses, so light that the wearer doesn’t realize they’re there. I’m always glad when someone knocks them off my face like you’ve done here!

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