Warning: Racism Is Bad for Your Health

By Elizabeth Page-Gould

Elizabeth Page-Gould explains that the targets of prejudice aren’t the only ones harmed by it.

When we think about the victims of racism, we typically think of the immediate targets of racial prejudice: Those who have suffered at the hand of discrimination and oppression. But new research has identified another, unlikely group of victims: the racists themselves.

In the urban metropolises of the United States and Canada, it is almost impossible to avoid talking to someone of another race. So imagine the toll it would take if every time you did, your body responded with an acute stress reaction: You experience a surge in stress hormones, and your heart pumps harder while your blood vessels constrict, inhibiting the flow of blood to your limbs and brain.

These types of bodily reactions are helpful in truly dangerous situations, but a number of recent studies have found that racially prejudiced people experience them even during benign social interactions with people of different races. This means that just navigating the supermarket, coffee shop, or modern workplace can be stressful for them. And if the racist person then has to go through this every single day, the repeated stress can become a chronic problem, which places them at heightened risk for disease in later life.

Harboring prejudice, it seems, may be bad for your health.

Challenge vs. threat
The human body is incredibly adaptive to stressful situations. But our nervous system reacts very differently to stressful situations we perceive as challenges than to those we see as threats. It’s a distinction that, in the long run, could mean the difference between life and death for people with racial prejudices.

Challenges incite a sequence of physiological responses that send more blood to our muscles and brains, enhancing our physical and cognitive performance. Threats, on the other hand, set off a physiological response that restricts our blood flow and releases the hormone cortisol, which breaks down muscle tissue and halts digestive processes so that the body can quickly muster the energy it needs to confront the threat. Over time, these responses wear down muscles, including the heart, and damage the immune system.

In other words, facing challenges is good for you; facing threats is not. And whether you perceive interracial interactions as a challenge or a threat may be the key to thriving in a multicultural society.

In one study, Wendy Berry Mendes, Jim Blascovich, and their colleagues invited European-American men into the laboratory to engage in social interactions with African-American men or with men of the same race as themselves. The participants were hooked up to equipment that measured the responses of their autonomic nervous system while they played the game Boggle with their white or black partners.

When interacting with African-American partners, the white men tended to respond as to a physiological threat, marked by diminished blood pumped through the heart and constriction of the circulatory system. However, European Americans who had positive experiences with African Americans in the past responded as though the game posed a challenge—increased blood pumped by the heart and dilation of the circulatory system.

This is not an isolated result. In a study with Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton and Linda Tropp, I randomly paired European-American and Latino participants into same-race and cross-race pairs and had them disclose personal information to each other. At the beginning and end of the social interaction, participants provided saliva samples so we could measure their cortisol responses to the social interactions.

More on Are We Born Racist?
Read more about the book, or order your copy
Read Susan Fiske’s essay on the new science of racism
Read Allison Briscoe-Smith’s essay on teaching tolerance to kids

In other words, prejudiced individuals perceived partners of a different race as a physical threat, even though they were in a safe laboratory setting and engaging in a task that was structured to build closeness between the participant pairs. This was true for both Latino and European-American participants who were prejudiced. Imagine these same individuals trying to negotiate a racially diverse street scene or meeting at work.

In another study, Wendy Berry Mendes and her colleagues invited European Americans to take a survey over the Internet, measuring their levels of automatic prejudice against African Americans. These white participants were then invited to a laboratory where either European Americans or African Americans evaluated participants, as if in a job interview.

Again, as in the study I did with my colleagues, cortisol spiked in the relatively racist participants—and at the same time, their bodies released low levels of DHEA-S, a hormone that helps repair tissue damage caused by the taxing “flight or fight” response. In contrast, the more egalitarian participants—those who scored low in automatic prejudice—responded to the interracial interaction with greater increases in DHEA-S than cortisol, which suggests that they saw the evaluation more as a healthy challenge than as a threat.

A healthy society?
The bottom line is clear: Harboring racist feelings in a multicultural society causes daily stress; this kind of stress can lead to chronic problems like cancer, hypertension, and Type II diabetes. But interracial interactions are not inherently stressful. Low-prejudice people show markedly different physiological responses during interracial interactions. In all three of these studies, people who had positive attitudes about people of other races responded to interracial interactions in ways that were happy, healthy, and adaptive.

These positive attitudes can be learned; prejudiced people are not doomed to be that way forever. In my own study with Latino and European-American participants, we randomly assigned racist participants—those who were measurably stressed out by simple cross-race conversations—to complete a series of friendship-building tasks over several weeks with people of a different race. Over the next several weeks, we watched cortisol levels diminish in prejudiced participants, a trend that lasted throughout the friendship meetings. Furthermore, in the 10 days following their final friendship meeting, prejudiced participants who had made a cross-race friend in the lab sought out more daily interracial interactions afterward.

It’s that simple: Building friendships with people of other races seems to eliminate unhealthy stress responses, so that each new interaction can be greeted as a challenge instead of a threat. In a racially diverse society, those who feel comfortable with people of other races are at an advantage over those who do not.

These results have profound implications for the way we design our neighborhoods and institutions; indeed, they suggest that race-mixing policies like affirmative action might be just as good for white people as for people of color. The future health of racist people is not set in stone. If they’re willing to take the first step and reach out to people of other groups in a friendly way, they may learn to thrive in a society that is increasingly diverse

The Vicious Cycle Of Overeating And Obesity

New research provides evidence of the vicious cycle created when an obese individual overeats to compensate for reduced pleasure from food.

Obese individuals have fewer pleasure receptors and overeat to compensate, according to a study by University of Texas at Austin senior research fellow and Oregon Research Institute senior scientist Eric Stice and his colleagues published this week in The Journal of Neuroscience.

Stice shows evidence this overeating may further weaken the responsiveness of the pleasure receptors (“hypofunctioning reward circuitry”), further diminishing the rewards gained from overeating.

Food intake is associated with dopamine release. The degree of pleasure derived from eating correlates with the amount of dopamine released. Evidence shows obese individuals have fewer dopamine (D2) receptors in the brain relative to lean individuals and suggests obese individuals overeat to compensate for this reward deficit.

People with fewer of the dopamine receptors need to take in more of a rewarding substance — such as food or drugs — to get an effect other people get with less.

“Although recent findings suggested that obese individuals may experience less pleasure when eating, and therefore eat more to compensate, this is the first prospective evidence to show that the overeating itself further blunts the award circuitry,” says Stice, a senior scientist at Oregon Research Institute, a non-profit, independent behavioral research center. “The weakened responsivity of the reward circuitry increases the risk for future weight gain in a feed-forward manner. This may explain why obesity typically shows a chronic course and is resistant to treatment.”

Using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), Stice’s team measured the extent to which a certain area of the brain (the dorsal striatum) was activated in response to the individual’s consumption of a taste of chocolate milkshake (versus a tasteless solution). Researchers tracked participants’ changes in body mass index over six months.

Results indicated those participants who gained weight showed significantly less activation in response to the milkshake intake at six-month follow-up relative to their baseline scan and relative to women who did not gain weight.

“This is a novel contribution to the literature because, to our knowledge, this is the first prospective fMRI study to investigate change in striatal response to food consumption as a function of weight change,” said Stice. “These results will be important when developing programs to prevent and treat obesity.”

The research was conducted at the The University of Oregon brain imaging center.

Stice has been studying eating disorders and obesity for 20 years. This research has produced several prevention programs that reliably reduce risk for onset of eating disorders and obesity.
Source:
Kathryn Madden
University of Texas at Austin

Men Battling The Skinny Jean and Eating Disorders

Despite the number of men with eating disorders continuing to rise, men with eating disorders feel invisible and unable to seek professional help, according to research by the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM).

SLaM Clinical Psychologist Dr Victoria Mountford and her co-researchers at Canterbury Christ Church University, found that men with eating disorders felt alone and worried about the stigma surrounding male eating disorders.

It is now estimated that at least 10 per cent of binge eaters, anorexics and bulimia sufferers are male. Interestingly, rates of eating disorders among men are on the rise, whereas rates among women have remained largely the same over the last 10 years.

The stigma around males and body image means males find it even harder to acknowledge they have an eating disorder and seek help. Males showing signs of eating disorders are less likely to be recognized and diagnosed by professionals including GPs and psychiatrists.

To coincide with London Fashion Week, SLaM has contributed a piece on the rise of eating disorders among men to Nutrition Rocks, a lifestyle and celebrity website that aims to improve nutrition and body image among young people.

This London Fashion Week, media attention has zeroed-in on the so-called ‘size zero debate’. Models and eating disorders, and the unrealistic body image promoted by the fashion industry, is nothing new.

What is different is that the fashion industry’s obsession with body weight is no longer confined to women. Men, and in particular male models, are increasingly aspiring to unrealistic, unobtainable and unhealthy body shapes.

The article cites the research of Dr Mountford and colleagues, who spent a great deal of time talking to men suffering eating and body image problems.

“They told me they felt male eating disorders were an invisible issue and that eating disorders were thought to only affect women. They felt very alone with their eating disorders and worried about how people would react if they found out,” Dr Mountford explained.

“The men we spoke to had found it difficult to admit to themselves and others that their eating behaviors were problematic and that they needed some support. This meant that many of the men waited a considerable amount of time before seeking help.”

Hala El-Shafie, Specialist Dietician and co-founder of Nutrition Rocks, agreed with Dr Mountford’s research.

“The greatest challenge surrounding body image issues and eating disorders in men, is that men historically find it difficult to share and discuss emotional issues they may be facing. Sadly, disordered eating behaviour and distorted body image is becoming increasingly prevalent in males,” Hala said.

“However, without greater awareness of the problem, many men will continue to suffer in silence and shame, and the underlying stresses that often precede disordered eating will continue to go undetected. Greater awareness of how men can access help and support is needed. This is not just a women’s issue.”

Notes
– Dr Victoria Mountford is a clinical psychologist in SLaM’s Eating Disorders Inpatient Service. Internationally renowned for its research and treatment development, the service offers assessment, treatment and management of people with anorexia nervosa, bulimia, binge eating and other eating problems. Care is tailored to individual needs, and outpatient, daycare and inpatient treatment is offered.

– For more information on SLaM’s Eating Disorders Service visit here.

Nutrition Rocks aims to offer people easy and practical advice on living a healthier lifestyle whilst providing accurate tips in nutrition and well being. Together with celebrity interviews, Nutrition Rocks features real life stories to encourage and inspire alongside no nonsense information around food, nutrition, beauty, fashion and fitness.

Source: South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM)
Copyright: Medical News Today
This article was originally published at:
http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/202112.php

The Price of Popularity: Drug and Alcohol Consumption

The consumption of drugs and alcohol by teenagers is not just about rebellion or emotional troubles. It’s about being one of the cool kids, according to a study by led by researchers at the Université de Montréal.

“Our study highlights a correlation between popularity and consumption,” says Jean-Sébastien Fallu, lead researcher and professor at the Université de Montréal’s School of Psycho-education. “The teenagers we studied were well-accepted, very sensitive to social codes, and understood the compromises that it takes to be popular.”

Link between popularity, friends and consumption

The study, which is to be published during the next year as part of a collective work, was conducted on more than 500 French- speaking students at three separate moments of their lives: at ages 10 to 11, 12 to 13 and 14 to15. It took into consideration the popularity of the child and their friends and tracked their consumption of alcohol, marijuana and hard drugs.

The findings showed an increase in consumption, as the child got older regardless of their popularity level. However, the more popular a child and their friends were, the greater this consumption was. There was a two-fold between increase between ages 10 and 15 for the most popular kids who also had very popular friends. However, this trend did not apply to popular kids whose friends were not as popular.

Maintaining popularity

The results suggest that popular teenagers are more at risk if their friends are also considered popular. “Teenagers don’t consume to belong to the group or to increase their popularity level, they do it to remain well-liked,” says Fallu. “It’s more about keeping their status than increasing it.”

Teenagers who aren’t considered popular are obviously also at risk of other deviant behaviors. However, other studies have shown that they are more inclined to develop violent behaviors than consume alcohol or drugs.

This research was made possible by grants from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the National Health Research and Development Program, and the Fonds Québécois de Recherche sur la Société et la Culture.

Fallu conducted the study with the help of Frank Vitaro, Stéphane Cantin and doctoral student, Frédéric Brière of the Université de Montréal School of Psychoeducation as well as colleagues at the University of Oslo.

The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by University of Montreal, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.


Anger Amplifies Clinical Pain In Women With And Without Fibromyalgia

Researchers from Utrecht University who studied the effect of negative emotions on pain perception in women with and without fibromyalgia found that anger and sadness amplified pain equally in both groups. Full findings are now online and will publish in the October print issue of Arthritis Care & Research, a journal of the American College of Rheumatology.

Fibromyalgia (FM), a chronic pain condition, has among the largest impact of all rheumatic and chronic pain conditions. In addition to chronic, widespread pain, patients report accompanying symptoms such as fatigue, functional disability, and psychological distress. FM is thought to involve heightened pain sensitivity to a variety of psychophysical and emotional stimuli, with negative emotions believed to be experienced more strongly in FM patients than in the general population.

The Utrecht team theorized that specific negative emotions such as sadness and anger also would increase pain more in women with FM than in healthy women. Their study examined the effects of experimentally-induced anger and sadness on self-reported clinical and experimentally-induced pain in women with and without FM. Participants consisted of 62 women with FM and 59 women without FM. Both groups were asked to recall a neutral situation, followed by recalling both an anger-inducing and a sadness-inducing situation, in counterbalanced order. The effect of these emotions on pain responses (non-induced clinical pain and experimentally-induced sensory threshold, pain threshold, and pain tolerance) was analyzed with a repeated-measures analysis of variance.

Self-reported clinical pain always preceded the experimentally-induced pain assessments and consisted of reporting current pain levels (“now, at this moment”) on a scale ranging from “no pain at all” to “intolerable pain.” Clinical pain reports were analyzed in women with FM only.

Electrical pain induction was used to assess experimentally-induced pain. Participants pressed a button when they felt the current (sensory threshold) and when it became painful (pain threshold) and intolerable (pain tolerance). Four pain assessments were conducted per condition, and very high internal consistencies were obtained.

More pain was indicated by both the clinical pain reports in women with FM and pain threshold and tolerance in both groups in response to anger and sadness induction. Sadness reactivity predicted clinical pain responses. Anger reactivity predicted both clinical and electrically-stimulated pain responses.

Both women with and women without FM manifested increased pain in response to the induction of both anger and sadness, and greater emotional reactivity was associated with a greater pain response. “We found no convincing evidence for a larger pain response to anger or sadness in either study group (women with, or without FM), said study leader Henriët van Middendorp, Ph.D. “In women with FM, sensitivity was roughly the same for anger and sadness.”

Dr. van Middendorp concludes, “Emotional sensitization of pain may be especially detrimental in people who already have high pain levels. Research should test techniques to facilitate better emotion regulation, emotional awareness, experiencing, and processing.”

In a related study, a research team from Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre found that tailored cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and exercise training tailored to pain-avoidance or pain-persistence patterns at a relatively early stage after diagnosis is likely to promote beneficial treatment outcomes for high-risk patients with FM.

The Nijmegen team evaluated the effects of this approach in a randomized controlled trial. The study compared a waiting list control condition (WLC) with patients in a treatment condition (TC) to demonstrate improvements in physical and psychological functioning and in the overall impact of FM.

High-risk patients were selected and classified into 2 groups (84 patients were assigned to a pain-avoidance group and 74 patients to the pain-persistence group) and subsequently randomized to either the TC or WLC. Treatment consisted of 16 sessions of CBT and exercise training, tailored to the patient’s specific cognitive behavioral pattern, delivered within 10 weeks. Physical and psychological functioning and impact of FM were assessed at baseline, post-treatment, and 6-month follow-up.

The treatment effects were significant, showing notable positive differences in physical (pain, fatigue, and functional disability) and psychological (negative mood and anxiety) functioning, and impact of FM for the TC in comparison with the WLC. Clinically relevant improvement was found among patients in the TC group.

“Our results demonstrate that offering high-risk FM patients a treatment tailored to their cognitive behavioral patterns at an early stage after the diagnosis is effective in improving both short-and long-term physical and psychological outcomes,” says junior investigator Saskia van Koulil. “Supporting evidence of the effectiveness of our tailored treatment was found with regard to the follow-up assessments and the low dropout rates. The effects were overall maintained at 6 months, suggesting that patients continued to benefit from the treatment.”

This article was originally published on the Behavioral Medicine Report:
http://www.bmedreport.com/archives/17543