March 6, 2018

A Preliminary Study of the Relationship between Perceived Racism and Cardiovascular Reactivity and Recovery in Native Hawaiians

Andrea Hepuapo’okela Hermosura, Stephen A. Haynes and Joseph Keawe’aimoku Kaholokula

Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities

Native Hawaiians, compared to other ethnic groups in Hawai‘i, have significantly higher mortality rates and die at a younger average age from cardiovascular disease (CVD). This may be partially explained by elevated cardiovascular responses to racial stressors. Our study examined the degree to which blood pressure (BP) and heart rate (HR) reactivity and recovery, and ratings of subjective distress to racial stressors, differ as a function of Native Hawaiian college students’ levels of perceived racism. This study had three phases. Phase 1 involved the development of a blatant and subtle racial stressor. Phase 2 involved assigning 132 students into high- or low-perceived racism groups based on scores on two perceived interpersonal racism measures. Phase 3 involved a psychophysiology laboratory experiment conducted with 35 of the 132 students. BP, HR, and subjective distress were measured during exposure to the blatant and subtle racial stressors. Systolic blood pressure (SBP) recovery following exposure to
both stressors was significant for both groups. Although not significant, three trends were observed among the high-perceived racism group, which included: (1) greater reactivity to exposure to the subtle stressor than to the blatant stressor, (2) incomplete HR recovery following exposure to both stressors, and (3) incomplete SBP and diastolic blood pressure recovery following exposure to the subtle stressor. Participants also reported significantly greater subjective distress following exposure to the blatant than to the subtle stressor. Specific interventions, such as increased self awareness of physiological responses to racial stressors, targeted at at-risk individuals are necessary to reduce a person’s risk for CVD.

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