Psychological and biological responses to race-based social stress as pathways to disparities in educational outcomes

Dorainne J. Levy*, Jennifer A. Heissel, Jennifer A. Richeson, Emma K. Adam

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Scopus citations


We present the race-based disparities in stress and sleep in context model (RDSSC), which argues that racial/ethnic disparities in educational achievement and attainment are partially explained by the effects of race-based stressors, such as stereotype threat and perceived discrimination, on psychological and biological responses to stress, which, in turn, impact cognitive functioning and academic performance. Whereas the roles of psychological coping responses, such as devaluation and disidentification, have been theorized in previous work, the present model integrates the roles of biological stress responses, such as changes in stress hormones and sleep hours and quality, to this rich literature. We situate our model of the impact of race-based stress in the broader contexts of other stressors [e.g., stressors associated with socioeconomic status (SES)], developmental histories of stress, and individual and group differences in access to resources, opportunity and employment structures. Considering both psychological and biological responses to race-based stressors, in social contexts, will yield a more comprehensive understanding of the emergence of academic disparities between Whites and racial/ethnic minorities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)455-473
Number of pages19
JournalAmerican Psychologist
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016


  • Academic achievement
  • Coping
  • Cortisol
  • Sleep
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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