Giscombé’s Superwoman Schema Helps Determine Connection between Racial Discrimination and Allostatic Load

A recent publication coming out of the University of California Berkley used Distinguished Term Associate Professor Cheryl L. Woods Giscombé’s Superwoman Schema Questionnaire to determine the connection between racial discrimination and allostatic load in African American women from the Bay area. Berkley News reported on the research in this recent article, which explains that

The superwoman schema includes five elements: feeling an obligation to present an image of strength, feeling an obligation to suppress emotions, resistance to being vulnerable, a drive to succeed despite limited resources and feeling an obligation to help others.

In the study, participants were asked to rate their experience of racial discrimination in different contexts, including finding housing, finding employment, at work, at school, getting credit for a bank loan or mortgage and in health care settings. They also rated to what extent they identified with different aspects of the superwoman schema.

Each participant also received a physical exam, with researchers recording their height, weight, blood pressure, blood sugar and measures of inflammation and other health indicators. These health indicators were combined into a measure of ‘allostatic load’ that reflected the level of chronic stress in the body. Higher levels of allostatic load are associated with greater risk for chronic illnesses like cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and even for mortality.

The researchers then analyzed the data for links between racial discrimination, the different aspects of superwoman schema and allostatic load. (Kara Manke, Berkley News)

Amani M. Allen, associate professor of community health sciences and epidemiology at the University of California, Berkeley, explained that some surprising results emerged from their study. “For example, the study found that women who reported suppressing emotions had lower levels of allostatic load, or less stress, in their bodies. This contradicts psychological studies, which commonly show that suppressing emotions, rather than openly expressing them, can increase stress and be detrimental to health.”

Read the full article here, and find more details about Dr. Giscombé’s Superwoman Schema Questionnaire in her published articles below.


Photo Credit: Berkley News, AP photo by Ivan Gener
Berkley News article written by: Kara Manke