Current Projects

Psychosocial Mechanisms of African American and Latino Developmental Health (September 2017 – Present)
Despite the goal set by Healthy People 2010 to eliminate health disparities, African Americans and Latinos continue to be disproportionately affected by life-threatening diseases relative to non-Hispanic Whites. While evidence supporting these disparities is clear, the incorporation of a developmental science framework to understanding them is lacking. We do not fully understand how racial and ethnic disparities develop over time, whether there are critical periods when these disparities worsen, or what contextual factors contribute to and influence health trajectories over the life course. The primary aim of this project is to build a new interdisciplinary collaborative team between scholars at UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Greensboro, and North Carolina Central University that will examine biopsychosocial mechanisms during adolescence and the transition to adulthood that may account for population differences in African American and Latino populations’ health. Two guiding questions are: 1) What are candidate biopsychosocial mechanisms during adolescence and emerging adulthood that account for individual differences in health vulnerability for African Americans and Latinos over the life course?; and 2) What are mechanisms of racial, ethnic, and psychosocial resilience that protect against negative developmental health outcomes for African American and Latino adolescents and young adults?

This project is funded by the University of North Carolina System.

Racial Equity and Mental Health in Black Families (July 2015 – Present)
In conjunction with Strengthening the Black Family, Incorporated, we are developing a community-academic partnership focused on racism and mental health in African American children, youth, and families in Southeast Raleigh, North Carolina. In the initial stages of this formative relationship, we used photovoice – a community-based participatory research method that allows participants to express the strengths and concerns of the community through photography – to examine African American middle school students’ perceptions of racism experiences that influence African Americans’ psychological, physical, and behavioral health. The photovoice project served as a springboard for subsequent and ongoing collaboration that has shared goals of: 1) developing culturally-informed intervention and prevention efforts for Black youth and their families; and 2) addressing longstanding racial disparities in mental health access, service utilization, and quality of mental health care.

This project is funded by the Detroit Community-Academic Urban Research Center, the University of Michigan Community-Based Participatory Research Academy, and the Carolina Center for Public Service.

Racism-Related Stress and Health: Underlying Mechanisms and Processes (May 2012 – Present)
This project combines survey, physiological, and experimental methods to examine: (1) mechanisms and processes by which racial discrimination might affect health in African American young adults; (2) mental and physical health trajectories of African American young adults following exposure to racism-related stress; and (3) personal race-related attitudes and experiences that affect these mechanisms and trajectories. We are particularly interested in three mechanisms by which racial discrimination affects health: (1) exposure to racism giving rise to negative emotional states and overall psychological distress; (2) behavioral coping responses to manage racism-related stress leading to the initiation of unhealthy behaviors such as tobacco use and alcohol abuse and disengagement from health activities such as sleep and exercise; and (3) psychological and behavioral responses to acute and chronic stressors leading to structural and functional changes in autonomic functioning and reactivity (Williams & Mohammed, 2009). The emphasis on mechanistic research stands to benefit science and public health by laying the foundation for the development of interventions that may mitigate the mental and physical health sequelae of racism.

This project is funded by the UNC University Research Council (URC) and the UNC Institute of African American Research (IAAR).

Completed Projects

Individual and Situational Determinants of Psychophysiological Responses to Race-Based Discrimination (July 2009 – July 2011)
This project used psychophysiological methods to investigate individual differences in responses to race-based discrimination. Building on postdoctoral research conducted at Howard University, and consistent with the stress and coping paradigm articulated by Lazarus and Folkman (1984), we were interested in examining individual and situational determinants of psychophysiological responses to race-based discrimination. Individual determinants included sociodemographic variables such as age, gender, and socioeconomic status (SES) as well as racial and ethnocultural protective factors such as racial identity, Africentric worldview, and parental racial socialization. Situational determinants included characteristics such as overtness of a race-based discrimination experience and race of the perpetrator. In sum, we were interested in underlying mechanisms and contributing factors that influence psychophysiological responses to race-based discrimination.

RESEARCH QUESTIONS:

  1. Do laboratory analogues of race-based discrimination elicit physiological changes in cardiovascular functioning?
  2. What individual and situational factors moderate physiological patterns of response to race-based discrimination and how?
  3. To what extent do subjective reports of psychological responses to race-based discrimination correspond to physiological responses to race-based discrimination?
  4. To what extent can the relationships among individual and situational factors and physiological responses to analogues of race-based discrimination be replicated

Effectiveness of Youth Mentoring Interventions for African American and Latino Male Youth (November 2010 – May 2013)
This project research synthesis examined mentoring as an approach for addressing the myriad of challenging health and social outcomes faced by African American and Latino male adolescents and young adults. The specific aims of the project were: (1) to examine the overall impact of mentoring interventions for African American and Latino male youth; (2) to evaluate the extent to which previously identified moderators of mentoring intervention effectiveness (e.g., program design and implementation, mentor characteristics, and characteristics of mentor-mentee relationship) also moderate the effectiveness of mentoring interventions for African American and Latino male youth; and (3) to assess how racial, ethnic and cultural attributes of program participants (e.g., immigration status/level of acculturation) and mentoring interventions (e.g., promotion of racial/ethnic heritage, integration of spirituality, etc.) enhance youth health and social outcomes.

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