The effects of perceived discrimination on the resting state connectivity of the brain in older adults
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Over the last 20 years, there has been increasing research on the negative effects of discrimination on the mental and physical health of people of color. As mental health has an important relationship with the functional connectivity of brain networks, it is vital to further understand this. One way to measure functional brain connectivity is by observing the activity of the brain’s resting state networks (RSN) while a participant is at rest. Previous studies investigating connectivity have demonstrated a relationship between altered connectivity of RSNs and neuropsychiatric disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and anxiety. The RSN of interest in this analysis is the salience network (SN). This network, anchored in the anterior insula and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, is involved in the responses to “salient” stimuli that are infrequent in space or time, compete for an individual’s attention, and are surprising or emotionally engaging, such as an act of discrimination. The aim of this study was to use a seed-based correlation analysis to examine the relationship between perceived discrimination and the functional connectivity of the SN in black and white participants and to evaluate the differences in SN functional connectivity between black and white participants. Resting state functional connectivity was measured by using the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data collected from 18 healthy older adults partaking in two different studies investigating aging, cognition, and the accompanying changes in neuroanatomy. The Analysis of Functional NeuroImages (AFNI) software was used to examine the correlations in activation in the primary nodes of the SN with activation in clusters in the other primary nodes. Perceived discrimination was measured using the Experiences of Discrimination Scale (EOD), a self-report measuring the frequency of instances of discrimination and the perceived reason behind the discrimination. Preliminary results from this analysis demonstrated that black participants, when compared to the white participants, demonstrated greater functional connectivity between the left and right insula and decreased functional connectivity between the right anterior cingulate cortex and the right insula. Black participants demonstrated a positive association between perceived overall discrimination and functional connectivity between the right and left insula and a negative association between perceived overall discrimination and functional connectivity between the right anterior cingulate cortex and the left insula. The white participants demonstrated a negative association between perceived overall discrimination and functional connectivity between the left and the right insula. Considering the inability for these results to survive correction for multiple comparisons, a larger sample size is necessary to obtain true statistical significance. Although existing research has implicated functional connectivity changes in the regions of the salience network in populations experiencing social exclusion, anxiety, and depression, further analyses are necessary to expand the limited research available regarding the effects of overall and race-based discrimination on the resting state functional connectivity of neural networks involved in emotional processing.