Torres, L., Driscoll, M. W., & Burrow, A. L. (2010). Microaggressions and psychological functioning among high achieving African-Americans: A mixed-methods approach. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 29, 1074 – 1099.
Torres’ (2010) study sought to identify the types of racial microaggressions described by high achieving African Americans and to investigate the way in which microaggressions influence mental health over time. Racial microaggressions have been to come in three forms: microassaults, microinsults, and microinvalidations. Microassaults are explicit, racially derogatory statements or actions with the intention of hurting the victim. Microinsults are rude or insensitive comments that demean the person’s racial or cultural heritage; it is not always explicit. Microinvalidations exclude, negate, or minimize the perceptions, thoughts, feelings, or other experiential components of targets’ realities.
The qualitative phase of the study was based on the responses to the question “What obstacles, if any, did you have to overcome in order to earn your doctorate degree?” Concepts that were identified in this phase included assumptions of criminality/second-class citizen, underestimation of personal ability, and cultural/racial isolation. Assumption of criminality/second class citizen refers to events in which the person of color was thought to be doing something illegal or was being treated as an inferior person. Underestimation of personal ability included stereotypes and negative perceptions about an individual’s ability to succeed in academia. This also included a need to prove oneself academically. Cultural/racial isolation referred to being singled out because race or the lack of peers of the same race.
Results suggested that individuals usually utilized active coping strategies and that they had moderate levels of stress during the month prior. All three types of microaggression subscales were related to increased stress and depression. Active coping was related to lower stress, fewer symptoms of depression, and less underestimation of personal ability. Underestimation of ability predicted depression and perceived stress. After accounting for the effects of microaggressions on depression through perceived stress, the direct effect of microaggressions on perceived stress was significantly reduced. Results also suggest that the effect of underestimation on perceived stress depends on the level of coping behaviors. High coping and low underestimation of personal ability were associated with the lowest perceived stress scores. Cultural/racial isolation predicted depression.