Neurobiology and Intergroup Relations

Incorporating neurobiology integrates existing knowledge of human biological systems with intergroup (“us” vs. “them”) dynamics.

Neurophysiologic pathways involved in stereotype threat. Stereotype threat—the fear of being judged through the lens of negative stereotypes in the minds of others—creates stress that can lead to poor health (e.g., coronary heart disease). Over long periods of time, stereotype threat may be a key contributor to racial disparities in both education and health. This research tests neuro-physiologic pathways that can be examined in the context of stereotype threat and biomarkers of coronary heart disease—specifically, endothelial cell injury and dysfunction, and cellular mechanisms associated with the cardiovascular system.

Dialogues about past racial injustice, implicit power, and activation of the sympathetic nervous system. Implicit power motives capture people’s unconscious motivations to have impact, influence, and control over others. Hormones secreted as part of the neuroendocrine system can be released when high implicit power people attempt to influence and persuade others. This research monitors neuroendocrine system activity while members of racial minority groups (i.e., African Americans) engage in dialogues with racial majority groups (i.e., White Americans) about the importance of past racial injustice for understanding contemporary intergroup relations.

We are in the process of developing new studies related to incorporating biomarkers related to stress (e.g., cortisol) to understand physiological mechanisms linking concealment of a stigmatized identity and psychological distress and dysregulated eating. Finally, we are beginning to collaborate with microbiologists to explore identity and stress in the context of disease. Specifically, we are exploring how human microbiome and social environment affect the development and time course of leg ulcers among sickle-cell anemia patients.

Sample Publications

Cook, J. E., Purdie-Vaughns, V., Meyer, I., & Busch, J. (2014). Intervening within and across levels:
A multilevel approach to stigma and public health. Social Science & Medicine.

Cook, J.E., Purdie-Vaughns, V., Garcia, J., Taborsky-Barba, S., Tomassetti, S., & Davis, E. (under review).
A randomly-assigned values-intervention reduces body mass in response to stereotype threat. Health Psychology.

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