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American Medical Association

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JAMA Network Open

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Importance For Black US residents, experiences of racial discrimination are still pervasive and frequent. Recent empirical work has amplified the lived experiences and narratives of Black people and further documented the detrimental effects of racial discrimination on both mental and physical health; however, there is still a need for further research to uncover the mechanisms connecting experiences of racial discrimination with adverse health outcomes.

Objective To examine neurobiological mechanisms that may offer novel insight into the association of racial discrimination with adverse health outcomes.

Design, Setting, and Participants This cross-sectional study included 102 Black adults who had recently experienced a traumatic injury. In the acute aftermath of the trauma, participants underwent a resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging scan. Individuals were recruited from the emergency department at a Midwestern level 1 trauma center in the United States between March 2016 and July 2020. Data were analyzed from February to May 2021.

Exposures Self-reported lifetime exposure to racial discrimination, lifetime trauma exposure, annual household income, and current posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms were evaluated.

Main Outcomes and Measures Seed-to-voxel analyses were conducted to examine the association of racial discrimination with connectivity of salience network nodes (ie, amygdala and anterior insula).

Results A total of 102 individuals were included, with a mean (SD) age of 33 (10) years and 58 (57%) women. After adjusting for acute PTSD symptoms, annual household income, and lifetime trauma exposure, greater connectivity between the amygdala and thalamus was associated with greater exposure to discrimination (t(97) = 6.05; false discovery rate (FDR)–corrected P = .03). Similarly, racial discrimination was associated with greater connectivity between the insula and precuneus (t(97) = 4.32; FDR-corrected P = .02).

Conclusions and Relevance These results add to the mounting literature that racial discrimination is associated with neural correlates of vigilance and hyperarousal. The study findings extend this theory by showing that this association is apparent even when accounting for socioeconomic position, lifetime trauma, and symptoms of psychological distress related to an acute trauma.


Published version. JAMA Network Open, Vol. 5, No. 1 (January 24, 2022): e2144759. DOI. © 2022 Webb EK et al. published by American Medical Association. Used with permission.

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