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The Neural Correlates of Minority Stress: Uncovering Systemic Oppression Related to the Intersectionality of Identity with Neuroimaging and Machine Learning


Researcher bios and how their research backgrounds relate to this study

Nicholson’s research program is characterized by brain imaging studies in the field of psychiatric medicine, utilizing a wide range of technical methods including real-time fMRI, and most recently, the application of machine learning models to predict psychiatric illness. Dr. Nicholson’s research focuses on examining differential biomarkers of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) using neuroimaging methods, as well as examining transdiagnostic biomarkers of other psychiatric disorders.

Additionally, Nicholson’s research network is heavily involved in developing novel brain computer interfaces to be used as adjunctive treatments for patients with PTSD such that individuals can voluntarily learn to regulate brain states associated with symptoms. Indeed, Nicholson's group is currently examining randomized clinical trials of neurofeedback in PTSD. Nicholson’s lab is interested in investigating the neural underpinnings of minority stress and its relation to mental illness risk and resiliency.

Purpose of this research project

The purpose of the current study is to uncover the effects of minority stress exposure in order to promote change, foster resiliency, and help those who have been psychologically injured by these experiences. We are interested in observing how the brain and body “adapts to the impossible” and how functional brain changes as a result of minority stress exposure leads to strength through adversity or psychological injury.  There are two objectives: 1. To better understand the the qualitative lived experiences of minority stress exposure from an intersectional perspective (in a variety of contexts, including individuals impacted by the ), and 2. to examine the neurobiological correlates of minority stress.

How this research will help LGBT2SQ people and communities

LGBT2SQ individuals are more likely than the majority population to experience harassment, discrimination, and adverse health outcomes. This is amplified for individuals with intersecting minority identities (eg. racial and/or ethnic identities). The purpose of the current study is to uncover the effects of minority stress exposure in order to promote change, foster resiliency, and help those who have been psychologically injured by these experiences.


Participants are required to be 18-65 years old, fluent English speaker, and comfortable using electronic devices (eg. PC, tablet). Since our aim is to better understand experiences of minority stress and how that impacts the brain and the body, we will be seeking out individuals who self-identify as minorities (eg. sexual orientation, racial and/or ethnic, gender).


Participants will receive a $25 gift card for completing each interview for the study. Compensation for completing the fMRI scan/blood collection portion of the study will be $50. Parking/transit costs will also be reimbursed as applicable.

Mitigation measures

Participants are encouraged to skip questions that they prefer not to answer. Research staff are trained in grounding techniques in case a participant becomes distressed during an interview or during the fMRI scan. A resource document for local emotional support services are provided to participants who require it. Given the nature of the research team, a trained psychologist is also available in the case of an emergency during an interview session.

Promoting the Study

This study is being promoted via word of mouth, social media, advertising with local groups who serve minority populations, and through email mailing lists/networks related to our collaborators, such as the LGBT Purge Fund.

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