Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Paul Perrin


Black individuals have been disproportionately targeted by law enforcement, most notably in shooting deaths at the hands of police, and has contributed to a general distrust of law enforcement. A rise in citizen journalism has helped document excessive use of force by police on video; however, little is known how individuals respond to viewing this type of media. A history of race-based stress is likely to contribute to an expectation of racism and may impact how individuals respond to videos of the treatment of unarmed Black men at the hands of police, with some evidence suggesting ethnic identity may moderate this relationship. Additionally, stress has been previously associated with risky health behaviors and risk-taking more generally; however, little is known whether the response to race-related stressors is in line with past work and whether distress tolerance may moderate this relationship. This study sought to contribute to this literature by examining if racial differences exist in the stress response to a video of police fatally wounding an unarmed black man and if this response (1) was predicted by stigma-related stressors (discrimination, anticipatory racism); (2) was associated with risk-taking; and (3) was moderated by ethnic identity and distress tolerance. Results showed that White respondents evidence greater galvanic skin response than Black respondents; however, there were no other significant racial differences in heart rate variability, systolic blood pressure, or negative affect via facial electromyography in response to the video. The stress response did not predict risk-taking nor was distress tolerance a significant moderator of this relationship. Among Black respondents, stigma-related stressors did not predict the stress response. Levels of ethnic identity commitment marginally interacted with discrimination in predicting heart rate variability, such that individuals with greater levels of commitment evidenced lower heart rate variability as experiences of discrimination increased compared to those with lower levels of commitment. There were no other significant or marginally significant interactions of ethnic identity with stigma-related stressors in predicting the stress response. Stigma-related stressors did not predict risk-taking nor were there indirect effects through the stress response. Health implications and directions for future research are discussed.


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