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Open Collection of Student Writing (OCSW)

Warped Minds


This research seeks to understand the correlation between racial discrimination and psychological stress and distress. It gives a brief description of both psychological stress and psychological distress, and gives a brief review of various studies that have similarly been conducted on the subject. The purpose of this study is to find more effective means of combating the psychological disorders that develop due to experiencing racial discrimination. The two main methods of research will be through interviews with participants, and collection of data analysis from the interviews. This will hopefully provide an understanding of the human mind during such occurrences, reveal effective means of combating psychological disorders that might develop, and offer enough substantial information for the government to implement stricter laws preventing racial discrimination.


When one looks at one’s own reflection, what is it that they see? Is it an image of a strong, capable person? Is it an image of someone who just wishes to be like everyone else? Or, perhaps, it’s an image of what the person perceives to be an inferior being, someone of less significance because their skin tone is a few shades darker than others? When psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark conducted an experiment in 1947 to study how individuals viewed their skin color, it was to answer such a question. How does one perceive themselves as being? What resulted following the experiment was a deeper understanding of the psychological effects racism has on the human mind, which were both deeply saddening and deeply troubling. Known as “The Doll Study”, African American children were presented with two dolls, each with different skin colors (“American Denial” 2017). They were then asked a series of questions pertaining to how they perceived each doll, such as which was the “good doll” was and which was the “bad doll”, followed by which of the dolls they looked most like. As each child was asked the questions, they would point to the darker colored doll, stating that the doll was bad, and that they looked most like that doll. As this experiment shows, the way in which an individual perceives themselves as being starts at a very young age, and can have a profound effect on how they view themselves throughout their life (“American Denial” 2017).

The definition for psychological stress, as defined by Mia Bynum and colleagues, is “the perception or appraisal of certain events as stressful or burdensome.” Likewise, the definition of “psychological distress is defined as the degree to which an individual is suffering from some form of psychopathology.” What the study conducted by Bynum and associates was aimed towards was finding an understanding of how these two definitions effected the minds of young adult African Americans entering college. Along with this, how racial socialization can help to alleviate the psychological disorders that may develop from facing such conflicts within society (Bynum et. al. 2007). For the purpose of this research paper, however, the scope will be widened to include individuals from varying ethnicities who are directly affected by racism.

Along with this study, a similar study was conducted by Enrique W. Neblett and colleagues focused on the same goal of understanding how racial discrimination affects the mind. They found that in African American adolescents, there is a direct connection between level of psychological distress and the amount in which an individual experiences racial discrimination (Neblett et. al. 2008). Likewise, they also found that, though racial socialization can have a positive effect on adolescents in being able to combat psychological issues associated with such distress, negative racial socialization will also contribute to an adolescents notions of self-worth. To adequately bolster protection against racial discrimination, they concluded that certain types of racial socialization, specifically “High Positive”, were an effective means to prevent negative psychological disorders (Neblett et. al. 2008)

Contrary to both these studies, however, another study, conducted by Clare Cassidy and colleagues, on the correlation between racial discrimination and psychological distress cited research that there was no direct connection. This study’s research pronounced that “self-esteem moderated the discrimination-distress relationship…” not racial discrimination. Cassidy and colleagues concluded that their own findings did not support the hypothesis drawn from “the self-esteem theory of depression”, only that it “provided partial support for the transactional model of stress and coping, which suggests a mediating role.” (Cassidy et. al. 2004) They also studied whether this could be correlated across genders. In their findings, they discovered that males whom experienced increased amounts of noted discrimination obtained decreased self-esteem, causing an increase in both depression and anxiety. On the other hand, with females, there was only a specific effect on anxiety caused by discrimination, but not for depression. They concluded that the ways in which an individual is helped with coping with racial discrimination must be handled differently for men and women, as each experiences such discrimination in varying ways (Cassidy et. al. 2004). It is for this reason that this proposal is being presented, so that a better understanding of these effects may be drawn out, and better methods of coping for individuals may be concluded.

Hypothesis/Research Question

There is believed to be a distinct correlation between those who experience racial discrimination and their level of psychological stress or distress due to such experiences. This study is designed to observe such negative effects, and determine effective means of countering the effects, such as through the use of positive reinforcement from positive racial socialization. Likewise, discovering effective means for both males and females to counter such negative impacts on the psyche. The hypothesis is that, if such methods are instructed at a younger age, as individuals affected by racial discrimination progress through their lives, the level of psychological stress and distress due to such experiences will decrease, in turn lowering the number of disorders associated with the level of stress, such as depression and social anxiety.


The research that will be conducted will occur in a weekly two-stage study involving interviews and data analysis. Those participating in the study will be monitored from a young age of 12 years, continuing through the teenage years, and into adulthood of the age of 25 years. The participants in the study will come from various ethnic backgrounds, to allow for a wider scope of how individuals handle psychologically stressful situations involving race. Likewise, participants will also be of varying genders, to, once more, draw a more concise understanding of the stressful effects of racism. In the first stage, the participants will be asked to recall times where they felt they had been racially discriminated against. They will be asked to explain their feelings during such instances, and how it has affected them since. Along with this, participants will also be shown various images involving racial discrimination. They will also be asked to allow for an electroencephalography, or EEG, machine, for the purpose of data analysis on the brain waves, to be worn during the interviews. As each question is asked of each participant, and each image displayed, those conducting the research will mark instances recorded by the EEG machine of high levels of stress and distress. In the second stage, interviewers will discuss with each participant what it is they felt when recalling each instance, or seeing each image. The interviewers will then focus on positive reinforcement of the psyche through the use of discussing positive racial socialization. The participants brain waves will continued to be monitored through these discussions, with interviewers noting which parts of the discussion brought out lowered levels of psychological stress and distress. As the study is conducted over several years, at the end of each year, a record will be made of each participants’ level of psychological stress and distress, along with any psychological disorders that have developed due to racial discrimination, and the intensity of each disorder.


Racial discrimination has a profound effect on the human mind, causing high levels of psychological stress and distress among individuals. Why this study is important is to help find more effective means of reducing the number of psychological disorders that occur amongst these individuals. Along with this, the results from this research might provide enough information for the government to implement stricter laws against racism. Issues that might arise, however, is the ethical implications of such research, as it does involve the study of adolescents. To overcome this issue, however, the parents of participants will be allowed to remain in the room during interviews and studies, and each participant will require consent from parents to participate in the study. Overall, it is the hope that this study will provide valuable analysis on the human mind in coping with racial discrimination, and allow individuals to live more healthy lives.


Works Cited
“American Denial.” PBS. Public Broadcasting Service, n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2017. <>.
Bynum, Mia Smith, E. Thomaseo Burton, and Candace Best. “Racism Experiences and Psychological Functioning in African American College Freshmen: Is Racial Socialization a Buffer?” Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology 13.1 (2007): 64-71. Web. 30 Apr. 2017.
Cassidy, C., O’Connor, R.C., Howe, C. & Warden, D. (2004). “Perceived discrimination and psychological distress: the role of personal and ethnic self-esteem.” Journal of Counseling Psychology, 51, 329-339. Web. 30 Apr. 2017
Neblett, Enrique W., Rhonda L. White, Kahlil R. Ford, Cheri L. Philip, Hoa X. Nguyên, and Robert M. Sellers. “Patterns of Racial Socialization and Psychological Adjustment: Can Parental Communications About Race Reduce the Impact of Racial Discrimination?” Journal of Research on Adolescence 18.3 (2008): 477-515. Web. 30 Apr. 2017.

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