Writing about justice and injustice: Complex effects on affect, performance, threat, and biological responses to acute social stress among african American women and men

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Soc Sci Med. 2022 May 7:115019. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2022.115019. Online ahead of print.


OBJECTIVE: Brief, culturally-tailored, and scalable stress coping interventions are needed to address a broad range of stress-related health disparities, including among African Americans. In this study, we develop two brief justice writing interventions and demonstrate a methodological approach for evaluating how prompting African Americans to think about justice and injustice can alter responses to acute social stress.

METHODS: African American women and men were randomized to a neutral writing condition or one of two justice-based writing interventions, which prompted them to recall past experiences of personal justice – with (adjunctive injustice) or without (personal justice-only) recalling and writing about injustice. Participants then completed a modified Trier Social Stress Test, during which they received feedback on poor performance. We measured cognitive performance, affect, and perceived threat in response to task feedback. We also measured blood pressure and salivary cortisol stress responses.

RESULTS: Men experienced more positive emotion, performed better on the stressor task, and were less threatened by poor performance feedback in the personal justice-only condition. Men also had lower systolic blood pressure reactivity in the justice writing conditions compared to control. Women experienced less positive emotion, performed worse on the stressor task, and were more threatened by feedback in the personal justice-only condition. Women also had lower cortisol recovery after the stressor task in the adjunctive injustice condition.

CONCLUSION: Thinking about justice and injustice may alter performance, affect, threat, and biological responses to acute social stress. Still, gender differences highlight that justice thinking is likely to produce heterogeneous and complex stress coping responses among African Americans.

PMID:35589454 | DOI:10.1016/j.socscimed.2022.115019