Substantial racial-ethnic disparities remain in health and educational outcomes; these gaps are not fully explained by socioeconomic status or school and healthcare access and quality. In this talk, Emma Adam presents a new theoretical model proposing that the psychological stress associated with being a stigmatized racial/ethnic minority group and the psychological and biological responses elicited by that stress may be a factor contributing to racial/ethnic (especially black-white) gaps in achievement and health. Adam presents initial evidence from a 20-year longitudinal study showing that developmental histories of exposure to racial discrimination are associated with dysregulated stress hormone patterns; these are, in turn, associated with lower levels of academic attainment and worse mental and physical health. She will also discuss racial/ethnic strengths, such as the presence of a strong ethnic and racial identity (ERI), which help to reduce the impact of histories of discrimination on adult outcomes. Finally, Adam will briefly describe a new longitudinal study she is conducting to test the impact of an ERI promotion intervention on youth stress biology, emotional wellbeing, cognition, and academic outcomes.
Emma Adam is an applied developmental psychobiologist who has been with Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy since 2000. She studies how everyday life experiences in home, school, and work settings influence levels of perceived and biological stress in children, adolescents, and young adults. Her work traces the pathways by which stress “gets under the skin” to contribute to youth outcomes. By using noninvasive methods such as measurement of the stress-sensitive hormone cortisol, and measurement of sleep hours and quality, Adam is identifying the key factors that cause biological stress in children and adolescents, and the implications of biological stress for daily functioning, emotional and physical health, cognition, and academic outcomes.
Adam received her Ph.D. in child psychology from the University of Minnesota and an MA in public policy from the University of Chicago.