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Adolescent Experiences of Perceived Racial Discrimination Associated with Worse Executive Functioning

Fri, March 22, 7:45 to 9:15am, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 1, Exhibit Hall B

Integrative Statement

Background. Although racism has morphed from more overt to subtler forms, racialized experiences of discrimination are still a commonplace experience for youth in the U.S. (Benner & Graham, 2013). Extant literature has demonstrated that perceived racial discrimination (PRD) is associated with psychological maladjustment, behavioral problems, low academic achievement, and poor mental health (Pascoe & Richman, 2009; Seaton, 2009). There is a dearth of literature, surprisingly, on the links between discrimination and adolescent executive functioning (EF), despite the fact that this fundamental aspect of cognitive development serves as a building block for positive developmental outcomes (including both behavioral regulation and academic performance). Our study addresses this gap by examining associations between PRD and EF in a diverse sample of high school freshmen.
Methods. Data were from the first wave of a longitudinal study focused on race-based stress and academic functioning. Adolescents self-identified their gender and race. Accounting for missing data, our final sample consisted of 45 adolescents from the greater Chicago area (59% female; 34% Black/African American, 26% White, 15% Hispanic/Latino, 17% multiracial or other). PRD was measured using the Adolescent Distress Discrimination Index, a 15-item Likert-type measure of PRD in peer, school, and institutional contexts (ADDI; Fisher, Wallace, & Fenton, 2000). EF was measured using the self-reported Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Functioning (BRIEF-SR; Guy, Isquith, & Gioia, 2000), a clinical neuropsychological assessment consisting of 80 items on a Likert-type scale, which are used to create the Global Executive Composite (GEC; an overall summary score), and its two subscales, the Behavioral Regulation Index (BRI; a measure of self-regulation) and the Metacognition Index (MI; a measure of attentional control). Higher scores on the BRIEF indicate greater executive dysfunction.
Results. Adolescents of color (M = .72, SD = .73) reported more instances of PRD than their White peers (M = .06, SD = .12). In multiple regression analyses, PRD significantly predicted worse GEC (ß = .38, p = .02). Similar results were found for the BRI (ß = .37, p= .02) and MI subscales (ß = .32, p = .06), with all regressions controlling for race and gender. Among subtypes of discrimination experiences, institutional PRD showed the strongest positive correlation with all three measures: GEC (r = .43, p = .03), BRI (r = .44, p = .002), and MI (r = .35, p = .02). PRD in the school setting was also significantly positively correlated with worse GEC (r = .35, p = .02) and BRI (r = .44, p = .02) but not MI (r = .22, p = .15).
Conclusion. Our findings suggest that increased experiences of discrimination are associated with worse self-reported executive functioning in freshmen; interpretations of these correlational findings will be discussed. Additional analysis will be conducted and presented using objective measures of cognitive functioning (e.g., the Cognition Battery of the NIH Toolbox), and with an increased sample size. If robust, our findings suggest that EF is an important pathway to understanding the impact of PRD on youth developmental and academic outcomes.

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