James Garcia, assistant professor of psychology, presented his pilot study on the effects of microaggressions on the heart among the Latinx community at the faculty lecture on Nov. 26 in the Executive Dining Room.
Microaggressions refer to the brief and subtle nature of words, not the impact the words have on a person, Garcia said. He said that comments like “you are so articulate” and “where are you from?” are forms of microaggressions.
“Often times I’ve heard on campus here or outside of the research community say ,‘Well, intentionality. I wasn’t meaning or intending to microagress’,” Garcia said. “Intentionality has nothing to do with a microaggressive act. It’s already out in the air, it already had its impact on another person.”
Garcia described three types of microaggressions: microassaults, microinsults and microinvalidations. He said that microassaults are explicit and is referred to as old fashioned racism. Microinsults are designed to lower a person’s social status. Microinvalidations are words that invalidate a person’s experience or intelligence, he said.
Garcia studied 33 people ages 18 to 33 to see the physiological response of microaggressions. Of the 33 people, 72% were first generation students, 72% were Mexican, 60% were bilingual, 21% were men and 78% were women.
Participants were randomly assigned to receive microinvalidations, microinsults and control groups, where a confederate engaged in conversation with the participant, Garcia said.
Participants were asked to refrain from exercising and drinking caffeinated beverages before the study to establish a baseline.
Students in the microinsult group where told “you speak English really well,” while students in the microinvalidation group were asked “Where are you from? Where are you really from?”
The baseline blood results were all below the hypertension state, he said. When calculating the results, Garcia said he found a higher, but insignificant trend toward the microinvalidation condition having higher reactivity to the test.
“This is interesting because it tells us that there is a trend here of the subtle effect for the microinvalidation condition,” Garcia said. “So this kind of suggests that this subtle effect of microaggressions literally is subtle.”
Garcia said that studies dealing with blatant racism tend to have more significant and obvious results because of the impact.
“What this may broadly also mean, is that one microaggression or microaggressive event is not enough to produce what we tend to see in the blatant racism paradigm,” Garcia said.
The term microaggression was first introduced by psychiatrist Chester M. Pierce, MD, in 1969, in context of the academic achievement of African American students in higher education, Garcia said. They were defined as the subtle, accumulative mini assaults of racism, he said.
Garcia said that he may not have found more significant results because of the methodology of his study.
Monique Williams, assistant professor of health, was already familiar with the work Garcia had done during the pilot study, and said that the information would be good to have as a longitudinal study.
“Really, when you’ll see the biggest impact from this, where it’s a really longitudinal study, because it is so small the changes that it’s almost like chipping away at the physiology of the heart,” Williams said. “It’s not until you’re diagnosed later that you realize the greater impact.”
Williams also suggested to Garcia that he look at the geographical location of the participants because where someone lives can have an effect on the efficacy of microaggressions.
Justin Tang, junior psychology major, said working with Garcia on the pilot study was a good experience and said that the type of work he did is what he wants to do after graduation.
“When we were collecting data, it was incredibly helpful and interesting doing all this stuff before we even did computer data analysis or statistics or psychology or research methods, so we were much more prepared,” Tang said. “Being able to work with participants that early on just made us so excited.”
Tang said that working with Garcia gave him opportunities, like attending the National Latino Psychological Association Conference.
Michael Davy, senior legal studies major said the pilot study was interesting and that the findings are significant enough to warrant more research.
“It was interesting to see how unconfident he was with his research, but he had something there and it was substantial,” Davy said.
David Gonzalez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.