An fMRI investigation of attributing negative social treatment to racial discrimination

Carrie L. Masten, Eva H. Telzer, Naomi I. Eisenberger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We used fMRI to examine the neural responses that occur during experiences of perceived racial discrimination. Previous neuroimaging studies have focused exclusively on the processes underlying racial bias from the perpetrator's perspective and have yet to examine the processes that occur when individuals are being discriminated against. To extend this work, we examined the neural correlates associated with attributing negative social treatment to racial discrimination to explore the cognitive and affective processes that occur as discrimination is being experienced. To do this, we scanned Black participants while they were ostensibly excluded by Whites and then measured distress levels and race-based attributions for exclusion. In response to being socially excluded by Whites, Black participants who appeared to be more distressed showed greater social pain-related neural activity and reduced emotion regulatory neural activity. In addition, those who attributed exclusion to racial discrimination displayed less social pain-related and more emotion regulatory neural activity. The potential negative impact that frequent negative social treatment and discrimination-related distress regulation might have on individuals' long-term mental and physical health is discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1042-1051
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of cognitive neuroscience
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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