Ethnic Variations in Anxiety Triggers and Responses

Gordon, Tynessa Lois, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
"Teachman, Ph.D.", Bethany, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia

The current studies investigate the relationship between anxiety and physical concerns forAfrican Americans, with a specific emphasis on cardiovascular arousal. The rationale for the studies follows from three distinct lines of research that draw from studies of culture and anxiety, medicine, and psychophysiology. Findings from these three areas implicate a link between anxiety and physical concerns for African Americans. First, there seems to be a stronger relationship between anxiety and physical symptoms, particularly cardiovascular arousal, for African Americans relative to other groups (Carter, Miller, Sbrocco, Suchday, & Lewis, 1999). Second, there are higher rates of cardiovascular - disease - related mortality and greater cardiovascular reactivity to psychological stress in African American populations (Arthur, Katkin, & Mezzacappa, 2004) relative to other groups. Third, research suggests that being exposed to physical illness via personal experience or the experience offamily members may engender distorted beliefs about the dangerousness of bodily sensations associated with that illness (Craske, Poulton, Tsao, & Plotkin, 2001). Thus, African Americans may demonstrate more distorted beliefs about the danger associated with cardiovascular arousal. Study ‘I (N=46) evaluated ethnic differences in anxious responding following physical symptoms of anxiety, and Study 2 (N=‘l26) examined ethnic differences in anxious responding following false heart rate feedback. Both studies compared African American and European American groups and included affective, cognitive, and physiological measures of anxiety. Findings from Study ‘I suggested physical concerns more broadly (as opposed to cardiovascular arousal in particular) may be a prominent area of concern for African Americans. Further, participants who reported greater exposure to cardiovascular disease or perceived risk of cardiovascular disease demonstrated more anxiety across the provocations. Study 2 results indicated that African Americans demonstrated more anxiety following physical triggers of anxiety on measures of subjective distress and perceived arousal, whereas European Americans demonstrated more fear of physiological arousal and perceived changes in heart rate during a social - performance task, as expected. The heart rate feedback manipulation did not affect anxious responding during iv subsequent tasks. Discussion centers on the idea that the observed relationship between anxiety and physical symptoms for African Americans may stem from a cultural sense of vulnerability regarding physical disease.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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