Category: Gay / Lesbian / Bisexual / Transgender Issues

Symposium

Minority Stress, Self-Regulation, and Executive Function: Experimental Investigation of Gay and Lesbian Adults

Friday, November 17
3:30 PM - 5:00 PM
Location: Cobalt 501, Level 5, Cobalt Level

Keywords: L / G / B / T | Stigma | Cognitive Processes
Presentation Type: Symposium

Background: Health disparities based on sexual orientation are partially attributable to minority stress. However, the mechanisms underlying how minority stress affects health are poorly understood. Theory and preliminary evidence within neuropsychology and social psychology are beginning to suggest that chronic experiences of rejection may contribute to cognitive depletion, particularly in the area of executive function, as well as difficulties with self-regulation of health behaviors. If present, these executive and self-regulatory depletion effects may begin to explain how minority stress contributes to health disparities.

Method: The current study was an experimental investigation of gay and lesbian adults (N = 141) that involved having participants engage in a stressful, evaluative interpersonal task with a confederate who they were led to believe held either positive or negative views toward sexual minorities.

Results: We examined how experimental condition affected self-regulation, including cognition (an executive function battery from the DKEFS administered at baseline and after the manipulation) and behavioral regulation (number of healthy and unhealthy snacks chosen at the end of the lab session). We also tested mediators of these effects, including state anger and anxiety, expressive suppression, cognitive interference, and disclosure of sexual orientation. Consistent with hypotheses, participants in the anti-gay condition chose a greater number of unhealthy snacks. Contrary to hypotheses, these participants actually showed greater improvement in cognitive performance than participants in the pro-gay condition. This effect was mediated by state anger.


Discussion: Possible explanations for this unexpected pattern of findings as well as future research directions are discussed in context of the neuropsychological, social psychological, and gay and lesbian health literature. Despite limitations, this study was among the first to experimentally manipulate minority stress in this population and the first to observe effects on executive and self-regulatory depletion. The results suggest both motivational/resilient as well as detrimental/depleting consequences of minority stress for gay men and lesbian women. 

Larissa McGarrity

University of Utah School of Medicine

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