College of Science and Health Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

Spring 6-10-2022

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Jocelyn Carter, PhD

Second Advisor

Kathy Grant, PhD


Adolescence is a formative, developmental period that encompasses increased life stress. For youth of color, these stressors are amplified due to race-related experiences such as racial discrimination. Studies have shown that family communication greatly influences the physiological stress response in childhood development. The purpose of the current study was to examine how interpersonal and institutional discrimination impact the physiological stress response and how supportive family communication may influence the stress response in adolescents from various ethnic and racial groups. A sample of 379 ethnically diverse adolescents participated in this study and completed self-report questionnaires. Cortisol samples were collected in conjunction with the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST). Three-way moderation analyses were conducted to explore the moderating effects of family communication and race/ethnicity on the relationship between racial discrimination on the HPA axis through the comparison of cortisol indicators. Findings showed that Asian youth reported significantly higher total average cortisol levels than their Black, Latinx, and Other-identified peers. Results also indicated that youth who reported more interpersonal, but not institutional discrimination, experienced more cortisol reactivity. Further, supportive family communication enhanced the impact of interpersonal discrimination on cortisol reactivity for Black youth only. Findings indicate the ongoing importance to examine the physiological effects of racial discrimination and the role of supportive family communication in youth from various ethnic and racial backgrounds.

SLP Collection