UCARE: Undergraduate Creative Activities & Research Experiences


Date of this Version

Spring 4-2016

Document Type



Bouley, Alleah, Alexander Johnson, Bethany Stoutamire, and Elizabeth Straley. 2016. "Population Neuroscience Approaches to Minority Discrimination and Health." Presented at the UNL Spring Research Fair, April 13, Lincoln, Nebraska.


Copyright © 2016 Alleah Bouley, Alex Johnson, Bethany Stoutamire, Elizabeth Straley & Jacob E. Cheadle


Alleah Bouley, Alex Johnson, Bethany Stoutamire, Elizabeth Straley

UCARE Abstract: Academic Year 2015-2016

Advisor: Dr. Jacob Cheadle

Population Neuroscience Approaches to Minority Discrimination and Health


The primary purpose of our research is to explore the effects of social exclusion and discrimination on the mental and physical health and wellbeing of sexual minorities (gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals). Addressing this complicated issue is a team effort, so participation in this project will provide a novel set of research experiences for participating undergraduates.


Our UCARE research will address two important questions. The first question we will address is how is discrimination associated with self-reported mental health and health-related behaviors? The second question we plan to answer with our research is to what extent do prior experiences of discrimination predict differences in neural processing of social exclusion and rejection (such as differences in neurophysiological processing components and activation of brain regions in response to exclusionary stimuli), and do measures of the neural processing of social exclusion correlate with mental and physical health outcomes?


Lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) individuals suffer higher mental health disorder prevalences, such as depression, substance use and abuse, and suicidality, compared to heterosexuals (Burgard, Cochran, and Mays 2005; Burton et al. 2013, 2013; Diaz et al. 2001; Hatzenbuehler 2009; King et al. 2008; Marshal et al. 2008; Meyer 2003). With recent estimates indicating that more than 8 million American adults identify as LGB, identifying mechanisms that may ameliorate negative outcomes in this population is imperative (Gates 2011). Researchers have conceptualized the cause for these higher rates as a symptom of stress (Hatzenbuehler, Nolen-Hoeksema, and Erickson 2008). In addition to personal experiences of social exclusion and rejection from identity-based discrimination, which can be based on any number of personal characteristics, social stress leads to negative mental and physical health outcomes in individuals (Carter, Mollen, and Smith 2014; Meyer 2003; Pearlin et al. 2005). The additional stigma that members of the LGBTQA community has led to gay men and lesbians to suffer from more mental health issues such as substance abuse and suicide in a hypothesis that can be described as minority stress (Meyer 2003).


We will begin by recruiting lesbian, gay, and bisexual students on UNL’s campus, using a respondent-driven sampling method (Heckathorn 2007). We will work as a team to manage “office hours” for data collection of both survey and experimental behavioral data. During these office hours, research assistants will guide participating students through a survey that will be used to measure the consequences of discrimination for LGB individuals. Additional sociodemographic background characteristics and a short behavioral task will also be assessed. Running these assessments on multiple participants is a collective, group activity that will provide unique training in respondent driven sampling for participating research undergraduates.

A random subsample will then be drawn from the survey respondents for participation in electroencephalography (EEG) experiments at the Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior. During these tasks participants will engage in validated social exclusion tasks to measure neurophysiological responses to social exclusion. EEG measures and records electrical signals given off by the brain through the scalp which are then translated as waves onto a computer for future analysis. EEG is conducted using a mesh cap of electrodes soaked in saline solution that a participant will be wearing. We will be using the program OpenSesame to present stimuli. The first exclusion task is called Cyberball. The participant will virtually pass a ball with two other avatars but after a set time, the avatars will no longer pass the ball to the participant’s avatar, thus excluding him/her. Participants will be asked about social pain and attribution of exclusion after each round of simulations. Two undergraduate research assistants will participate in each data collection, providing further novel research experiences as part of a collaborative, team effort to addressing the central research aims.


While we have not yet learned to analyze EEG data, we have been collecting data and administering surveys and behavioral tasks with Dr. Cheadle and his graduate assistants, Beth Straley and John Kiat, for the past year. We will be working together to train newly recruited undergraduate research assistants in EEG data collection methods based on the best practices we have learned, continuing to refine our technique, while working in pairs to ensure collection of good data. We are IRB-approved to collect and handle data, and hope to learn analysis techniques as part of the UCARE project in the coming year. These techniques will include segmentation, artifact detection and correction, and preliminary statistical analyses to answer our research questions. For instance, we plan to learn the basics of Principal Component Analysis to find brain activation patterns that reflect processing of exclusion, and to see if there are differences in these patterns for respondents depending on the levels of discrimination that they have experienced in everyday life.

We hope to accomplish the following benchmarks, as well as any other additional aspects of the research that will aid us in understanding neural processing.


Review IRB protocols

Facilitate training in EEG data collection for new UGRAs

Learn about recruiting a research sample

Recruit and manage a research sample

Collect EEG and behavioral data

Help with preliminary data analysis

Organize findings into a written format

Create a poster and present the research


Burgard, S. A., Cochran, S. D., & Mays, V. M. (2005). Alcohol and tobacco use patterns among heterosexually and homosexually experienced California women. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 77(1), 61–70.

Burton, C. M., Marshal, M. P., Chisolm, D. J., Sucato, G. S., & Friedman, M. S. (2013). Sexual Minority-Related Victimization as a Mediator of Mental Health Disparities in Sexual Minority Youth: A Longitudinal Analysis. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 42(3), 394–402.

Carter, L. W., Mollen, D., & Smith, N. G. (2014). Locus of control, minority stress, and psychological distress among lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 61(1), 169–175.

Diaz, R. M., Ayala, G., Bein, E., Henne, J., & Marin, B. V. (2001). The impact of homophobia, poverty, and racism on the mental health of gay and bisexual Latino men: findings from 3 US cities. American Journal of Public Health, 91(6), 927–32.

Gates, G. J. (2011). How many people are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender?. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/09h684x2.pdf

Hatzenbuehler, M. L. (2009). How does sexual minority stigma “get under the skin”? A psychological mediation framework. Psychological Bulletin, 135(5), 707–730.

Hatzenbuehler, M. L., Nolen-Hoeksema, S., & Erickson, S. J. (2008). Minority stress predictors of HIV risk behavior, substance use, and depressive symptoms: Results from a prospective study of bereaved gay men. Health Psychology, 27(4), 455–462.

Heckathorn, Douglas D. 2007. “Extensions Of Respondent-Driven Sampling: Analyzing Continuous Variables And Controlling For Differential Recruitment.” Sociological Methodology 37(1):151–207.

King, M., Semlyen, J., Tai, S., Killaspy, H., Osborn, D., Popelyuk, D., & Nazareth, I. (2008). A systematic review of mental disorder, suicide, and deliberate self harm in lesbian, gay and bisexual people. BMC Psychiatry, 8(1), 70.

Marshal, M. P., Friedman, M. S., Stall, R., King, K. M., Miles, J., Gold, M. A., … Morse, J. Q. (2008). Sexual orientation and adolescent substance use: a meta-analysis and methodological review. Addiction (Abingdon, England), 103(4), 546–556.

Meyer, I. H. (2003). Prejudice, Social Stress, and Mental Health in Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Populations. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 1, 3–26.

Pearlin, L. I., Schieman, S., Fazio, E. M., & Meersman, S. C. (2005). Stress, Health, and the Life Course: Some Conceptual Perspectives. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 46(2), 205–219.

Bouley UCARE_group_2016.ppt (1092 kB)
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