Sociology, Department of


Date of this Version



Annu Rev Sociol. 2018 July ; 44(1): 319–340. doi:10.1146/annurev-soc-060116-053403.


HHS Public Access.


This review describes stress-related biological mechanisms linking interpersonal racism to life course health trajectories among African Americans. Interpersonal racism, a form of social exclusion enacted via discrimination, remains a salient issue in the lives of African Americans, and it triggers a cascade of biological processes originating as perceived social exclusion and registering as social pain. Exposure to discrimination increases sympathetic nervous system activation and upregulates the HPA axis, increasing physiological wear and tear and elevating the risks of cardiometabolic conditions. Consequently, discrimination is associated with morbidities including low birth weight, hypertension, abdominal obesity, and cardiovascular disease. Biological measures can provide important analytic tools to study the interactions between social experiences such as racial discrimination and health outcomes over the life course. We make future recommendations for the study of discrimination and health outcomes, including the integration of neuroscience, genomics, and new health technologies; interdisciplinary engagement; and the diversification of scholars engaged in biosocial inequities research.