Sociology, Department of


Date of this Version



PNAS, December 8, 2020, vol. 117, no. 49, 31053–31062



Published under the PNAS license.


Racism-related stress is thought to contribute to widespread race/ ethnic health inequities via negative emotion and allostatic stress process up-regulation. Although prior studies document racerelated stress and health correlations, due to methodological and technical limitations, they have been unable to directly test the stress-reactivity hypothesis in situ. Guided by theories of constructed emotion and allostasis, we developed a protocol using wearable sensors and daily surveys that allowed us to operationalize and time-couple self-reported racism-related experiences, negative emotions, and an independent biosignal of emotional arousal. We used data from 100 diverse young adults at a predominantly White college campus to assess racism-related stress reactivity using electrodermal activity (EDA), a biosignal of sympathetic nervous system activity. We find that racism-related experiences predict both increased negative emotion risk and heightened EDA, consistent with the proposed allostatic model of health and disease. Specific patterns varied across race/ethnic groups. For example, discrimination and rumination were associated with negative emotion for African American students, but only interpersonal discrimination predicted increased arousal via EDA. The pattern of results was more general for Latinx students, for whom interpersonal discrimination, vicarious racism exposure, and rumination significantly modulated arousal. As with Latinx students, African students were particularly responsive to vicarious racism while 1.5 generation Black students were generally not responsive to racism-related experiences. Overall, these findings provide support for allostasis-based theories of mental and physical health via a naturalistic assessment of the emotional and sympathetic nervous system responding to real-life social experiences.