Asian-American women's vulnerability to self-stereotypes may vary depending on the aspect of their identity-gender or race-that's foremost in their mind, according to a study in April's Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 90, No. 4).
Previous studies have shown that members of stereotyped groups, such as women and ethnic minorities, may see themselves in stereotype-consistent ways. Women, for example, may believe that they are not good at math.
But it's less clear what happens when people are members of multiple groups encompassing conflicting stereotypes, points out University of Virginia psychologist Stacey Sinclair, PhD. For example, women may be stereotyped as bad at math and good at verbal tasks, while Asians are stereotyped as good at math. So where would Asian-American women fit in?
To find out, Sinclair and her colleagues asked 62 Asian-American women to indicate how they thought people in general, people in the best position to know (such as former teachers) and they themselves would rate their chances of doing well on tests of math and verbal ability. The researchers also asked half the women to identify their ethnicity at the top of the page and half to identify their gender.
They found that when the women identified their gender, they evaluated their own verbal ability more favorably and thought that others would do the same. But when they identified their Asian-American ethnicity, they evaluated their math ability more favorably and thought that others would do the same.
In the same study, Sinclair repeated the experiment with African-American men and women. This time, she found that although the participants were aware of stereotypes about their ethnicity and gender, the stereotypes did not influence their self-views: They did not think that people close to them viewed their intellectual ability as lower when their ethnicity was more salient than their gender, nor did they view their own intellectual ability as lower. Sinclair hypothesizes that this may be because African Americans have had to deal with a particularly harsh form of prejudice for many years.
"African Americans, because of their history in this country, are particularly adept at building insulating social networks of close others who don't view them in stereotypical ways," she explains.