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J Pers Soc Psychol. 2012 May;102(5):1089-104. doi: 10.1037/a0027404. Epub 2012 Mar 5.

The erosive effects of racism: reduced self-control mediates the relation between perceived racial discrimination and substance use in African American adolescents.

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  • 1Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH 03755, USA.


Perceived racial discrimination, self-control, anger, and either substance use or use cognitions were assessed in 2 studies conducted with samples of African American adolescents. The primary goal was to examine the relation between discrimination and self-control over time; a 2nd goal was to determine whether that relation mediates the link between discrimination and substance use found in previous research. Study 1, which included a latent growth curve analysis with 3 waves of data, indicated that experience with discrimination (from age 10 years to age 18 years) was associated with reduced self-control, which then predicted increased substance use. Additional analyses indicated anger was also a mediator of this discrimination to use relation. Study 2, which was experimental, showed that envisioning an experience involving discrimination was associated with an increase in substance-related responses to double entendre words (e.g., pot, roach) in a word association task, especially for participants who were low in dispositional self-control. The effect was again mediated by reports of anger. Thus, the "double mediation" pattern was discrimination → more anger and reduced self-control → increased substance use and/or substance cognitions. Results are discussed in terms of the long-term impact of discrimination on self-control and health behavior. Implications for interventions aimed at ameliorating the negative effects of discrimination and low self-control on health are also discussed.

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