For Asians born outside the United States, embracing their ethnic identity does not guard against the negative effects of discrimination on their psychological wellness, according to a study among a nationally representative sample of Asian adults ages 18 to 75.

But, the study found, among U.S.-born Asians, ethnic attachment did affect whether discrimination made people feel more distressed, and its effect varied by age.

"Among adults in their 40s, feeling strongly about their own background can counteract the negative effects of discrimination," says Fordham University's Tiffany Yip, PhD, lead author of a study in the May issue of Developmental Psychology (Vol. 44, No. 3).

In a further analysis, Yip and her fellow researchers, Gilbert C. Gee, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles, and David Takeuchi, PhD, of the University of Washington, also found that U.S.-born Asians in their 30s and those over age 50 who described themselves as having strong ethnic identities had more mental distress from discrimination than participants who had weaker ethnic attachments. Yip suggests this may be because people who are entering middle age cope more effectively with stress and are better able to deal with emotional reactions to negative events.

The researchers note that more research is needed to understand the psychological effects of discrimination. "A better understanding of these issues could help us create resources that can protect against racial discrimination in this country, especially for those who are born in the United States," says Yip.