Effect of Vicarious Discrimination on Race-Based Stress Symptoms among Asian American Young Adults during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Abdelrahman ElTohamy, MD

Brigham and Women’s Hospital – Fellow

Scientific Abstract

Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes in the United States. Previous work has established that experiencing racism increases one’s dysfunctional anxiety and avoidance actions – key symptoms of racial trauma. However, the psychological impact of vicarious discrimination, also known as secondhand racism (witnessing racism targeting one’s own race group), remains less well-understood.

Methods: We tested the hypothesis that higher reported vicarious discrimination would be associated with higher levels of racial trauma symptoms reported by Asian American young adults (n = 135) during the pandemic using a cross-sectional analysis of the COVID-19 Adult Resilience Experiences Study (CARES). Starting in April 2020, CARES assessed sociodemographic characteristics and key psychometric scales in young adults through 3 waves of online surveys.

Results: Our multiple regression analysis showed vicarious discrimination to be significantly predictive of racial trauma symptoms, even after controlling for daily discrimination (p < 0.01). This association remained significant after controlling for age, gender, subjective childhood family social status, and pre-existing psychiatric disorders (p < 0.01). Our results demonstrate that regardless of the effect that daily discrimination might have on racial trauma, witnessing discrimination against members of one’s own racial group is significantly associated with increased racial trauma symptoms (b: 2.68, p < 0.01). Among the sources of vicarious discrimination, social media was the most common, with 1 out of 3 participants in our sample reporting nearly daily exposure. 

Conclusions: Our findings highlight the effects of vicarious discrimination on the well-being of Asian American young adults.

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research Areas


Abdelrahman ElTohamy, MD, Sunah Hyun, PhD, Ga Tin Finneas Wong, BA, Grace S. Kim, PhD, Hyeouk “Chris” Hahm, PhD, LCSW, Cindy H. Liu, PhD

Principal Investigator

Cindy H. Liu, PhD

Affiliated Website