Cultural influences on college students' suicide risk recognition in same age-peers

Date of Completion

January 2007


Psychology, Clinical




Research has demonstrated that demographic characteristics, whether they are gender and race, or attributes, like religious practices and beliefs, and cultural factors, can contribute to clinicians' and other trained professionals' differential psychological diagnoses in Blacks and Whites. However, no research has evaluated whether non-professionals', namely, same-age peers', are influenced by these same characteristics and attributes when assessing suicide risk in a population in which suicide is the third leading cause of death and that is more likely to confide in a friend than a parent or a professional when feeling distressed. To assess biases in college students' ability to evaluate suicide risk in African American and European American targets, the present study used videotaped clinical interviews that varied client race and suicidal symptoms presentation. The study is structured as a 2 (client race: African American vs. European American) X 2 (participant gender: male vs. female) X 3 (video condition: severe distress vs. moderate distress vs. minimal distress), between-subjects design. The dependent variables included ratings of the client's psychological state, personality characteristics, and suicidal risk. Given this framework, the present study explored whether target race, religious beliefs, participant gender, and suicide risk exposure influence suicide risk determination in an African American versus European American male therapy client. The sample was comprised of 238 undergraduates (58% female, 80% European American), with a mean age of 20 years. College students distinguished among the three distress conditions, perceiving the severe distress video as the most suicidal, followed by the moderate distress video and the minimal distress video. When considering whether race impacted how participants viewed the clients of different race, there were some interesting, but conflicting findings. In the moderately distressed condition only, participants perceived the African American client to be more suicidal than the European American client. However, only in the severely distressed condition, the European American client, not the African American client, was more likely to be perceived as having impaired thinking and being more hostile, which may relate to cultural stereotypes about African American men.^