Research Interests

Understanding how racial, ethnic, and cultural factors influence risk and resilience is a critical research priority for promoting the mental and physical health of African American youth. Through an integrated, collaborative, interdisciplinary program of research, my research examines individual differences in responses to racial discrimination with a focus on racial, ethnocultural, and biological processes that shape the link between racial discrimination and physical and psychological well-being in African American adolescents and emerging adults. I am particularly interested in mechanisms explaining the impact of racial discrimination on adjustment in African American youth (Neblett et al., 2012), and recent scholarship has focused on moderators and mediators of the link between racial discrimination and youth adjustment and biopsychosocial approaches to the study of African American risk and resilience. A new line of research also examines cultural adaptations of psychosocial interventions for racial and ethnic minority youth.

Racial, Ethnic, and Cultural Moderators of the Racial Discrimination-Adjustment Link
Experiencing racial discrimination constitutes a significant risk to the healthy development of African American youth (Neblett et al., 2004, 2006, 2008, 2009). Fortunately, not all youth who experience discrimination develop adjustment problems. Prior work has examined the extent to which cultural strengths of African American youth, namely, racial identity (Neblett et al., 2004; Seaton et al., 2011), racial socialization (Neblett et al., 2006, 2008; Neblett, Chavous et al. 2009), and Africentric worldview (Bediako & Neblett, 2011; Neblett et al., 2010), mitigate the deleterious association between racial discrimination and adjustment. Recently, we have extended this line of inquiry to physiological outcomes such as blood pressure (Neblett & Carter, 2012) and autonomic functioning (Neblett & Roberts, 2013). Our studies demonstrate that racial, ethnic, and cultural factors have the potential to act as resilience or vulnerability factors and are critical to understanding the diversity in adjustment outcomes among African American youth.

Mediators of the Racial Discrimination-Adjustment Link
A second arm of my research program examines why the association between racial discrimination and youth adjustment is attenuated by racial identity, racial socialization, and Africentric worldview for some and not others (e.g., Neblett, Rivas-Drake et al., 2010; Neblett et al., 2012). Although we might expect that racial, ethnic, and cultural factors that mitigate the racial discrimination-adjustment link would be associated with adaptive coping, our studies find that racial identity is positively associated with strong negative emotions (e.g., Jones et al., 2013; Rucker et al., 2013). These findings raise the possibility that the expression of negative emotions following specific instances of racial discrimination provides opportunities for individuals to hone their coping responses to discrimination in the short-term, be more prepared to deal with discrimination, and ultimately experience more favorable distal outcomes. In other work examining mediating mechanisms in the racial discrimination-adjustment link, we find that racial socialization plays an important role in the meaning that African American adolescents ascribe to race, with implications for subsequent psychological adjustment (Neblett, Banks et al., 2013; Neblett, Smalls et al., 2009). Findings also suggest that Africentric worldview may indirectly shape adjustment via its influence on perceived stress and emotion-focused coping (Neblett, Hammond et al., 2010). Together, these studies contribute to a second generation of studies that moves beyond the mere identification of risk and protective factors to elucidate the processes by which racial discrimination may influence adjustment.

Biopsychosocial Pathways Underlying Racial Discrimination, Resilience, and Adjustment
A new line of inquiry combines examinations of moderators and mediators of risk and resilience but uses a biopsychosocial frame of reference. Recent studies suggest that particular dimensions of racial identity are associated with patterns of physiological responding consistent with the perception of threat (e.g., Neblett & Roberts, 2013). Moreover, these threat responses are a function of the race of the perpetrator and the subtle versus blatant nature of the racial discrimination event. Pilot data also reveal that particular patterns of ANS responding attenuate the association between racial discrimination and depressive symptoms in African American young adults, suggesting that youth who are better able to modulate or regulate physiological arousal may be less likely to be at risk for adjustment problems than youth with poorer physiological regulation. Significant contributions of this research include: 1) increased attention to biological processes in resilience research; and 2) better understanding of the intersection of psychological and biological processes as mediators and moderators of risk and resilience in African American youth. By linking racial identity, racial socialization, and Africentric worldview with specific patterns of physiological reactivity that are associated with threat or challenge perceptions, motivational states, emotions, or active coping and engagement, this line of inquiry stands to increase our understanding of the mechanisms by which racial, ethnic, and cultural factors work to influence the racial discrimination-adjustment link.

Ongoing and Future Work
As I seek to further elucidate the processes underlying the link between racial discrimination and adjustment in African American youth, the primary foci of ongoing and future research efforts will be to: 1) conduct longitudinal investigations of biological and psychological moderating and mediating mechanisms underlying individual differences in youths’ responses to racial discrimination; 2) extend racial discrimination studies to include responses to racial discrimination in natural settings; and 3) examine how racial identity, racial socialization, and Africentric worldview can be harnessed to inform youth prevention and intervention efforts for racial and ethnic minority youth. In a longitudinal study of African American college students, we are currently examining how developmental trajectories of psychological adjustment vary as a function of patterns of racial, ethnic, and cultural protective factors in African American youth during the transition to adulthood. This research may help to identify who is most at risk for adjustment problems during the transition to adulthood and the role of contextual factors in shaping the relation between racial discrimination and youth adjustment trajectories. As an initial step in my long-term goal of applying my basic research to develop prevention and intervention programs serving racial and ethnic minority youth, I am also directing a meta-analysis examining the effectiveness of mentoring interventions for African American and Latino male adolescents and young adults.

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