The Unhealthy Racist

By Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton | June 1, 2008 | 0 comments

The targets of racism aren’t the only ones who suffer the pain and distress caused by prejudice. Research shows that people’s prejudices actually damage their own physical health and psychological well-being.

Racists, as it turns out, are victimized by their own racism. In a recent study, Liz Page-Gould, Linda Tropp, and I found that when highly prejudiced people interact with someone of a different race, their bodies produce a lot more cortisol, a hormone that indicates stress. Another recent study by psychologists Jennifer Richeson and Nicole Shelton found that prejudiced Whites performed worse on a difficult task when a black experimenter administered the test than when a white experimenter administered it. The more prejudiced the test taker, the worse his or her performance became, presumably because prejudiced test takers are too busy dealing with their negative emotions to concentrate on the task at hand.


Meanwhile, it turns out that people who embrace racial equality thrive in diverse environments. In another study I worked on, led by Wendy Berry Mendes and published last year in Psychological Science we found that people with high levels of racial bias showed significantly higher stress levels when they had to interact with someone of a different race. However, that wasn’t true for people with more egalitarian beliefs, who showed no spike in their stress or anxiety levels.

The bottom line: As our society grows more diverse and we interact more with people of different races—not to mention people of different religions, cultures, or ideological orientations—prejudiced people are going to be at a disadvantage. Their own racism affects their physical health and their ability to function effectively. Having egalitarian beliefs doesn’t just benefit a diverse society. It benefits each of us individually.

Tracker Pixel for Entry

Greater Good wants to know:
Do you think this article will influence your opinions or behavior?

  • Very Likely

  • Likely

  • Unlikely

  • Very Unlikely

  • Not sure

About The Author

Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, Ph.D.


Like this article?

Here's what you can do:

blog comments powered by Disqus



Greater Good Events

The Science of Burnout: What Is It, Why It Happens, and How to Avoid It
International House at UC Berkeley
April 29, 2017
6 CE Hours

The Science of Burnout: What Is It, Why It Happens, and How to Avoid It

A day-long semiar with GGSC Science Director Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Ph.D., celebrated compassion teacher Joan Halifax, burnout expert Christina Maslach, Ph.D., and UCLA psychiatrist Elizabeth Bromley, M.D., Ph.D.


Take a Greater Good Quiz!

How compassionate are you? How generous, grateful, or forgiving? Find out!


Watch Greater Good Videos

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Talks by inspiring speakers like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Dacher Keltner, and Barbara Fredrickson.


Greater Good Resources


Book of the Week

How Pleasure Works By Paul Bloom Bloom explores a broad range of human pleasures from food to sex to religion to music. Bloom argues that human pleasure is not purely an instinctive, superficial, sensory reaction; it has a hidden depth and complexity.

Is she flirting with you? Take the quiz and find out.
"It is a great good and a great gift, this Greater Good. I bow to you for your efforts to bring these uplifting and illuminating expressions of humanity, grounded in good science, to the attention of us all."  
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Best-selling author and founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program

thnx advertisement