The growing body of research reveals that racism aggression remains a critical factor in the causation of mental distress, despite the unacceptable status of overt discrimination in the modern society. The study by Nadal et al. (2014) explored the effect of racial microaggressions on the mental health of people of color. The independent variable of the research was the frequency of experiences of racial microaggression, while the dependent variable was mental health. Based on the previous research in this field, the authors posed the hypothesis that higher frequency of subtle discriminatory experiences would correlate with negative mental health symptoms.
The study involved 506 participants, most of them being women. The sample was representative of the most common races in the US, including Asian Americans, Latinos, African Americans and European Americans. The variables were assessed with self-report measures: Racial and Ethnic Microaggressions Scale and Mental Health Inventory. To test the relationship between the variables, the researchers used a linear regression model, applying variance analysis and t tests. The initial hypothesis of the authors was confirmed as the results revealed significant negative correlation between exposal to racial microaggresssions and the condition of mental health. The experience of microaggressions particularly correlated with such negative symptoms as depression and lack of positive affect.

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The results obtained by Nadal et al. (2014) can be explained with the accumulative effect of stressful experiences related to subtle racial discrimination. Even though an insult a person of color experiences on the basis of their race might not seem serious at first glance, it still causes immediate distress and reinforces the negative perceptions the person has about himself/herself. When this pattern is frequently repeated, the whole outlook of the person can be reshaped as they indeed begin to believe that they are invalid or inferior. Moreover, as noted by the authors, the detrimental psychological effects of microaggressions can be intensified with the lack of ability to respond to such interactions efficiently, as both striking back and ignoring the offense only serve to increase the negative self-image of the victim.

  • Nadal, K.L., et al. (2014). The impact of racial microaggressions on mental health: Counseling implications for clients of color. Journal of Counseling and Development 92(1), 57-66.