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Study on Minority Status Stress and Psychological Distress

Info: 1684 words (7 pages) Essay
Published: 5th Sep 2017 in Health

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Recent findings show that some high-achieving individuals are unable to accept their success. These individuals have feelings of inadequacies that are pervasive and persist regardless of how successful they become. Impostor syndrome/feelings is the feeling of internalized chronic self-doubt and intellectual fraudulence that causes individuals to feel as though they are not successful or competent. Impostor syndrome/feelings were originally researched in White, middle and upper middle class high-achieving women. Though evidence shows otherwise, these women tend to attribute their success to coincidence or error, not their hard work. Impostor phenomenon has been tied to clinically significant mental health symptoms of depression, generalized anxiety, and low self-esteem. Several board members of Fortune 500 companies have stated that, in the past, they thought that they would be escorted out of their building and fired from their jobs. This is mainly because they feel that they would be found out as frauds even though they might be qualified for the job. Minority status stress, simply put, is the stress associated with being a minority in spaces with a low minority population.

This particular study distinguishes between minority status stress, impostor syndrome, and their involvement with mental health.

Research finds that minority status stress negatively affects mental health outcomes, such as general psychological distress and depressive/anxiety symptoms. Per the study, African Americans face the greatest risk of stress related to ethnic minorities. Further research involving other minorities are currently under way.

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The link between minority status stress and psychological distress seems to stem from the fact that ethnic minority groups are evaluated more negatively than European Americans. African Americans and Latino Americans are ranked last in intelligence rankings and high for laziness.

Because of this perception, these minorities are vulnerable to stereotype threat and heightened anxiety in testing situations. Stereotype threat is the perception that a person is conforming to the stereotypes of their social or ethnic group. These minorities experience anxiety in testing situations because they believe they must be exceptional and score well to offset the negative stereotypes of their ethnic group. While the African American and Latino groups have stressors related to overcoming laziness and seeming unintelligent, Asian Americans have stereotypes of overachieving. Asian Americans are stereotypically thought of as the model minority. These individuals are believed to be intelligent, hardworking, and high achieving, with no emotional or adaptive problems. This is problematic because it perpetuates the stereotypical shy, soft-spoken, unassuming Asian person. It is also problematic because Asian Americans are expected to perform well on tests. This causes anxiety because if an Asian person does not perform well, this potentially brings dishonor to their community. Disappointing the community is a stressor and produces anxiety for some Asian people.

The study was done at a large southwestern university. Ethnic minorities made up approximately 36.6% of the student body. Individuals age ranged from 17 to 39 years old. Those minorities tested were Latino (76 people) , Asian (111 people), African American (50 people), and American Indians. Three individuals identified as biracial. Of the 240 individuals tested, 90 identified as men and 148 identified as women; 2 individuals did not specify their gender. Of those tested, 13 were freshmen, 54 sophomores, 63 juniors, and 108 seniors. 2 individuals did not identify their year in school. The mean GPA of everyone tested was 3.07. 51 individuals identified as working class, 127 middle class, 57 upper middle class, and 5 upper class.

These individuals came from a pool of subjects in the educational psychology department. Those selected was sent a SurveyMonkey.com link where they could take the assessment. Specific measures tested for various signs of minority stress, imposter feelings, and mental well-being. The Minority Student Stress Scale (MSSS) tests for minority status stress. This assessment measures for specific stressors related to minorities and what stressors exacerbates ethnic minority status. The Clance Imposter Phenomenon Scale (CIPS) is a 20 item scale that measures feelings of being an imposter. The Mental Health Inventory (MHI) measures mental health. For mental health, higher scores on psychological distress indicates poorer mental health. Higher scores on the psychological well-being index indicate better mental health.

According to the data collected by sociologists and demographers, African Americans had more stressful experiences when it comes to adjusting to being a minority in a predominantly White university. Other ethnicities report their stress at a much lower rate. The higher stress reported by African Americans often led to lower feelings of well-being. Data also shows that Asian American students experienced higher imposter feelings than any other ethnicity studied. Per the research, “researchers found the results counterintuitive because they believed that highly stigmatized and stereotyped students would struggle with imposter feelings.” This is mostly because Asian American students must deal with the stressors of the model-minority stereotype and high parental expectations. Furthermore, the model-minority stereotype may, in fact, produce increased anxiety and distress, particularly for those students who do not possess the intellectual capacity or whose interests differ from those presented by the stereotype.

According to the data, minority status stress and impostor feelings were both significantly correlated with psychological distress and psychological well-being for all of the ethnic minority groups.

The correlation results support research by Jones et al. (2007), which found that stress related to race or minority status was an important correlate of mental health outcomes. Minority status stress was a significant negative predictor, but it did not significantly predict psychological well-being. Impostor feelings significantly predicted both psychological distress and psychological well-being; in fact, it was a much stronger predictor than minority status stress. These findings provide potential insights into ethnic minority students’ mental health.


This piece of research studied mental wellbeing in the realm of minority status stress and imposter syndrome/feelings. The scope of this study may have been too large because only a small selection of minorities were selected. The sample only consisted of African Americans, Latino Americans, and Asian Americans. Ethnic minorities such as Arab Americans, American Indians, and Alaskan native populations were not included. Biracial students were recognized but their data was not included in the mean. It would be interesting to see how researchers would handle biracial students. Placing them in their own group might not be ideal but asking them which ethnicity they mostly identify as would defeat the purpose of them stating that they were biracial. It would also be interesting to see how mental well-being and minority status stress affect those who benefit from the privilege that comes from assimilating into the majority.

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This research had an adequate sample size, with 240 minorities surveyed. However there was a large population of Asian Americans with 111 individuals surveyed, followed by 76 LATINOs, 50 AFRICAN AMERICANS, and 3 BIRACIAL INDIVIDUALS. I understand that the study was focused on minorities and their feelings within PWIs, but I believe a more robust sample and statistic would form if the survey was sent to every institution in the area. This way, we can see levels of well-being and imposter feelings and how they compare to minorities who go to PWIs versus minorities who go to HBCUs and members of the majority who go to HBCUs. To provide anecdotal evidence of the need for this expansion, I graduated from an HBCU prior to going to a PWI. I was afforded the opportunity to be a part of an advanced curriculum. In certain classes there were more White students than there were African American students. Though I did not recognize it at the time, the White students had imposter feelings. They would often say how, because of who they are or who they know, they advanced through school with little resistance. They also states that they only reason they enrolled into the HBCU was because they were offered scholarships to play a particular sport. By the time we all graduated, I believe the imposter feelings subsided. I even believe that the mental well-being was good because they joined the fraternities and sororities and embraced the culture and climate of the HBCU. Having a larger number and a wider pool of applicants would allow for stories like that to be told and for their data to be counted. The study states that there is only a correlational connection between minority status stress and imposter feelings and psychological distress and lower psychological well-being. However, I believe that it is intellectually dishonest to try to pinpoint only one cause of psychological distress and lower psychological well-being. The summation of all stressors can lead to these issues. Having a larger sample and a more indepth survey could push the data more toward causal instead of correlational.

As the individuals in the anecdotal example, school counselors often suggest engaging different ethnicities and joining groups of similar interest. Joining these groups may help to alleviate the stress associated with being a minority. Counselors even suggest opening a form of dialoge so that every ethnicity voices their opinions and has a voice that is positive and progressive.


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