Pilot Award Recipient: Michelle L. Stock, PhD

Photo of Michelle Stock

Understanding the Negative Impact of Racial Discrimination on HIV Risk Behaviors

March 15, 2011

Among 20-24 year olds, the rate of HIV/AIDS is 14 times higher for Blacks than it is for other racial groups. Increasing numbers of infections in this population are due to injection drug use, and high-risk sexual contact. These risky sexual behaviors increase with alcohol and drug (substance) use. The negative effects of racial discrimination on HIV-risk behaviors (risky sex and substance use) have been suggested by researchers as a reason for the health disparities, including HIV-risk behaviors, that exist between Blacks and Whites. A study that examines the impact of discrimination over time and through an experiment to see the effects immediately after experiencing discrimination will improve research designed to understand, and eventually help eliminate, the impact of racial discrimination on HIV-risk behaviors among Blacks. The main goals of this project are to examine psychological and social factors that link experiences of racial discrimination to substance use and risky sexual behaviors associated with HIV-risk. Factors that may link the effects of discrimination to HIV-risk behaviors include feelings of hopelessness, feelings of a lack of control over one's environment, and feelings of stress as well as increases in stress-related hormones. We will also test the protective effects of racial and collective socialization for young adults who experience racial discrimination. All of these factors psychological and social factors can be changed, thus are useful to examine for future prevention efforts. Participants will include 260 Black young adults ages 18 to 25 from the Washington D.C. metro area, where rates for HIV and drug use are among the highest in the country and have a more negative impact on the health of Black young adults compared to other populations. This project is consistent with the National Institute of Health's focus on: preventing new cases of HIV, examining both substance use and risky sex as risk factors for HIV, exploring the impact of racial discrimination on the mental and physical health of minority populations, and eventually reducing HIV-related outcomes in Blacks. The proposed study can inform prevention and intervention programs designed to protect young adults from the negative effects of racial discrimination and to reduce HIV-risk behaviors.