Professor of Sociology, The University of Texas at Austin
Research linking discrimination and health typically posits a stimulus-response model. In this model, discriminatory experiences are thought to initiate emotional and physiological stress cascades that over time contribute to accumulating allostatic load. One challenge to this research is that such a simple model does not account for individual differences in susceptibility and vulnerability. Negative emotionality has been hypothesized to bias perceptions of discrimination, particularly for subjective dimensions such as microaggressions, because reports may be unduly filtered through the lens of emotional states. This study tests two versions of this “negativity bias” hypothesis: The Weak Version challenges existing discrimination/health studies by arguing retrospective cognitive bias in respondent reports due to long time scales and vague retrospection of events. The Strong Version embeds negative emotionality as a cause of both perception and stress reactivity at local time scales, which requires considerable temporal prospective specificity to assess. In this study, we used a short-term but intensive longitudinal design combined with wearable sensors to track social experience, negative emotions, and physiological arousal to assess both the Weak and Strong versions of the negative emotionality hypothesis. The findings show that the weak form is untenable and the strong form is largely refuted. Implications of the findings for the future of discrimination and health related research are discussed.