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Exposure to negative stereotypes influences representations of monetary incentives in the nucleus accumbens.


Contemporary society is saturated with negative representations of racial and ethnic minorities. Social science research finds that exposure to such negative stereotypes creates stress above and beyond pre-existing effects of income inequality and structural racism. Neuroscience studies in animals and humans show that life stress modulates brain responses to rewards. However, it is not known whether contending with negative representations of one's social group spills overs to influence reward processing. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine the effects of stigmatizing negative stereotypes on neural responding to the anticipation and consumption of monetary gains and losses in a Mexican American sample. Machine learning analyses indicated that incentive-related patterns of brain activity within the nucleus accumbens differed between Mexican Americans subjected to negative stereotypes and those who were not. This effect occurred for anticipating both gains and losses. Our work suggests that rhetoric stigmatizing Latinos and other minorities could alter how members of such groups process incentives in their environment. These findings contribute to our understanding of the linkage between stigmatizing experiences and motivated behavior, with implications for well-being and health.

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