Though many studies have covered the long-term effects of discrimination on people’s health and careers, researchers at the University of Washington have found experiencing discrimination affects students’ daily behavior and habits.
The study, “Passively-sensed Behavioral Correlates of Discrimination Events in College Students” took place over the course of two academic quarters. The researchers compared students’ self-reports of unfair treatment to the students’ daily activities, such as hours slept, steps taken or time spent on the phone. It found those who reported experiencing discrimination on any given day also moved more, used their phone more, and slept less on that day.
Each of the participants received a FitBit that tracked their activity levels throughout the study. The researchers also looked at data from participants’ phones that showed their daily usage. Two hundred and nine participants took part in the study, with 179 remaining until the end.
In addition to the data on habits and behaviors passively collected by Fitbits and smartphones, the participants also filled out surveys at least twice a week. One of the questions asked whether the participant had experienced unfair treatment based on” ancestry or national origin, gender, sexual orientation, intelligence, major, learning disability, education or income level, age, religion, physical disability, height, weight or other aspect of one’s physical appearance.”
On average, on the days students reported discriminatory events they walked 500 more steps, had one more phone call in the evening, interacted five more times with their phones in the morning and spent about 15 fewer minutes in bed compared to days when they didn’t experience discrimination.
The study linked already known effects of discrimination — like depression, anxiety, loneliness and negative affect — to behaviors they observed throughout the study — like sleep, mobility, physical activity, social interaction and phone usage.
Increased screen time is also linked to playing a role in mental illness, according to another study, published in 2017 by the journal of Clinical Psychological Science.
“Understanding how day-to-day experiences of discrimination impact psychological state helps us to reason about the processes through which such experiences lead to deteriorated mental health,” the report says.
The most common types of discrimination participants reported experiencing were based on national origin, intelligence and gender, the study said.
The researchers say the largest goal of work like theirs is to reduce the prevalence or impact of discrimination, but that it is problematic to approach the issue as if the victims of discrimination are responsible for managing their reactions to it.
The researchers are set to present their findings Nov. 12 at the ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work in Austin, Texas.