Chair: Özlü Aran, M.S., M.A., graduate student, University of Denver, USA

Discussant: Kimberly D’Anna-Hernandez, Associate Professor of Psychology, Marquette University, USA

Symposium Abstract

The Developmental Origins of Health and Disease hypothesis and supporting research to date highlight the importance of environmental exposures during the preconception and prenatal periods and their long-lasting impacts on development. However, effects of sociocultural stressors on pregnant individuals from racially and ethnically minoritized backgrounds are understudied, despite well-established racial/ethnic disparities in health and development. In this symposium, we examine the impact of exposures to sociocultural stressors among pregnant individuals from racially and ethnically minoritized backgrounds.  Further, we identify factors contributing to resilience by buffering the impact of these stressors. The first presentation focuses on the association between lifetime experiences of discrimination and hair cortisol levels during pregnancy. The second presentation highlights intergenerational effects of discrimination on birth outcomes among Latinx pregnant individuals and identifies social support as a buffer against adverse birth outcomes. The third presentation extends research findings beyond interpersonal factors by demonstrating the association between stressful neighborhood conditions and acute stress response among a majority Black-identifying sample of pregnant individuals. In alignment with Study 2, this study finds neighborhood-level social support to protect against physiological stress response. Consistent with the ISDP’s 2022 symposium themes, these presentations examine cultural influences of stress and adversity in conjunction with physiological processes. Together, they underscore the importance of sociocultural stressors during pregnancy and their potential impacts across generations among individuals from racially and ethnically marginalized backgrounds. These presentations by three early career researchers will be discussed by a leading investigator who has expertise on physiological and behavioral mechanisms of perinatal mental health disparities.

List of abstracts and presenters


Presenter: Özlü Aran, M.S., M.A., graduate student, University of Denver, CO

Racial and ethnic health disparities in the United States can be pervasive across generations. One potential pathway is prenatal exposure to adversity, such as racial and ethnic discrimination. We aim to test whether lifetime experiences of discrimination predict hair cortisol levels as a chronic stress indicator among pregnant individuals of color. We hypothesized that with greater experiences of lifetime discrimination, individuals would have higher levels of hair cortisol during pregnancy. We also tested whether this association persisted above and beyond perceived stress levels. Pregnant individuals from racially and ethnically minoritized background (N = 103) were recruited between 23 and 34 gestational weeks pregnancy. Eighty-two percent of participants identified as Latinx White, 9% as Asian, 7% as multi-ethnic, 1% as Black or African American, and 1% as Native American or Alaskan Native. Experiences of discrimination and perceived stress were measured via surveys, and hair samples were collected to assess hair cortisol levels. Regression models showed that both experiences of discrimination and perceived stress were positively associated with hair cortisol levels when tested separately. When tested in the same model, only experiences of discrimination predicted hair cortisol levels. All analysis were adjusted for gestational age at hair collection. Our findings show that lifetime experiences of discrimination can be strong predictors of physiological stress during pregnancy above and beyond perceived stress. This suggests that discrimination experienced during the preconception and prenatal periods can have an intergenerational impact through prenatal stress pathways. 


Presenter: Sabrina R. Liu, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow, Conte Center, University of California Irvine and Chapman University, CA

Interpersonal discrimination has been associated with adverse birth outcomes among Black populations, but few studies have examined the impact of discrimination among Latinx/Hispanic populations in the U.S., especially in conjunction with assets that could be protective. The purpose of these two studies were 1) to test if exposure to discrimination, assessed during pregnancy, was associated with adverse birth outcomes in two samples of pregnant Latina/Hispanic women, and 2) if social support, assessed prenatally, buffered these links. We examined associations between maternal experience of both major and everyday discrimination and birth outcomes (length of gestation and birth weight) in two prospective cohorts of Latina/Hispanic women in Southern California (N’s = 84 and 111). Additionally, we tested social support (comprised of four domains: tangible support, positive social interaction, affection, and emotional/informational support) as a moderator of these relations. Exposures to discrimination predicted adverse birth outcomes in both cohorts. Specifically, in Cohort 1, major discrimination predicted shorter gestational length and lower birth weight. In Cohort 2, everyday and major discrimination predicted lower birth weight. Social support significantly buffered negative relations between discrimination and birth outcomes in both studies. Discrimination is an important risk factor for adverse birth outcomes among pregnant women of Latina/Hispanic descent. Further policies, practice, and research on reducing discrimination and enhancing factors that promote resilience such as social support are needed to promote healthy births among Latina/Hispanic women, mitigate intergenerational harm of racism-related stress, and promote health equity at birth and across the lifespan.


Presenter: Irene Tung, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Psychology, California State University Dominguez Hills, CA

Exposure to neighborhood-level stressors (e.g., community violence) during pregnancy can disrupt stress regulation and negatively impact offspring health. Neighborhood-level stressors disproportionately impact women living in under-resourced communities, but high levels of neighborhood-level support can also be present. Buffering effects of neighborhood support on the impact of neighborhood stress exposure on perinatal health has rarely been examined. We use a strengths-based framework embedded in a multi-method longitudinal study to examine the impact of neighborhood-level stress and support on resilience to stress during pregnancy. Participants include 97 pregnant women (78% Black) recruited from the community (73% receiving public assistance). Participants reported on neighborhood stressors (violence, lack of resources), neighborhood support as measured by collective efficacy (likelihood that neighbors would intervene or support those experiencing a problem or threat), and perceived resilience during pregnancy (belief in one’s ability to “bounce back” from adversity). Stress regulation was measured via continuous recorded heart rate variability (HRV) prior to, during, and after completion of the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST). Path analysis models showed that neighborhood-level stress was significantly associated with slower HRV recovery from the TSST. These effects were buffered by neighborhood support (significant stress x support interaction), such that neighborhood stress exposure was not significantly associated with stress recovery among women reporting high neighborhood support. The protective effects of neighborhood support emerged only at the physiological level and did not predict self-reported resilience. We discuss findings in relation to psychobiological models of resilience during pregnancy and highlight directions for future research.

Symposium Discussant: Kimberly D’Anna-Hernandez, Associate Professor of Psychology, Marquette University, WI