Microaggressions and Diurnal Cortisol: Examining Within-Person Associations Among African-American and Latino Young Adults

Katharine H. Zeiders, Antoinette M. Landor, Melissa Flores, Alaysia Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Purpose: We examined the relations between African-American and Latino young adults’ microaggressions and subsequent changes in weekly diurnal cortisol parameters (i.e., cortisol awakening responses, overall cortisol output (AUC), and diurnal slopes). Methods: Young adults (N = 53, Mage = 20 years, SD =.90; 72% female) participated in a 4-week diary study in which they reported their weekly experiences of microaggressions and completed 2 days of saliva samples each week. Saliva samples were obtained at waking, 30-minutes after waking, and bedtime on each sampling day (six samples each week; 24 samples total). In line with an idiographic approach to stress, young adults’ increases and decreases in microaggressions (relative to their own average) were linked to changes in cortisol parameters the following week. Results: Increases in microaggressions predicted greater AUC the subsequent week, controlling for gender, race, parental education, prior week's AUC, and weekly behavioral controls. Follow-up analyses of specific types of microaggressions indicated that experiences centered around criminality and second-class citizenship also related to increases in young adults’ cortisol awakening responses the subsequent week. Microaggressions were unrelated to changes in diurnal slopes. Conclusions: Microaggressions were linked to subsequent changes in diurnal cortisol among African-American and Latino young adults. Given the rigorous within-person design, findings point to the importance and impact of subtle forms of discrimination on young adults’ hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity, which is theorized to underlie health and well-being.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)482-488
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Adolescent Health
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2018


  • Diurnal cortisol
  • Ethnic-racial discrimination
  • HPA axis
  • Microaggressions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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