Past psychology research has shown that people associate Black with male and Asian with female. New findings have revealed that this association is weaker among people who fit the counter-stereotype — Black women and Asian men. The findings were published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.
A person’s social identity is made up of many different components, including one’s age, race, and gender. According to existing psychology research, people hold associations about how these identities intersect. For example, with computer mouse-tracking studies, researchers have found that people implicitly associate Black people with the notion of male and Asian people with the notion of female.
“A lot of prior research in psychology has looked at ‘race-gender associations,’ which is a finding that the concept of ‘Asian’ is more associated with the concept of ‘female’ than ‘male,’ while the concept of ‘Black’ is more associated with the concept of ‘male’ than ‘female,'” explained study author Jordan Robert Axt, an assistant professor of psychology at McGill University.
“These studies often use subtle measures of behavior to infer how strongly people associate each race with the concepts of ‘male’ and ‘female.’ However, this prior work has largely looked at mostly White samples, and strictly within a North American context. We wanted to see if other groups of participants would show this same pattern, because knowing this type of information can help us understand how these race-gender associations emerge.”
Axt and his colleagues conducted two studies to assess whether these associations are influenced by one’s ingroup identity and group status. In a first study, the researchers compared race–gender associations among U.S. residents of varying racial backgrounds. This allowed them to assess whether being part of a stigmatized group would influence one’s tendency to make these associations.
A total of 1,071 Black, White, East Asian, and Hispanic participants first completed a mouse-tracking task. Participants were shown a series of Black and East Asian faces and had to categorize the faces as either male or female by clicking a mouse. They also completed a questionnaire that asked them to rate the extent that they associate Black people and East Asian people with masculinity/femininity. Finally, they completed a priming task as a measure of implicit race–gender associations.
Results from the mouse-tracking task revealed the expected race–gender effect, but this effect was equally as strong for White and non-White participants. However, when participant gender was considered, an interesting effect emerged. While gender did not affect the mouse-tracking behavior of White or Hispanic participants, it did affect that of Black and East Asian participants. Specifically, for participants whose identity was counter-stereotypical to the race–gender effect, race–gender associations were weaker.
“The main takeaway is that, in tests both in the US and China, participants showed typical race-gender associations, with two interesting exceptions,” Axt told PsyPost. “Those participants who were ‘counter-stereotypical,’ meaning their race and gender identities did not align with the stereotype, did not show these race-gender effects. Specifically, Black women and Asian men (both in the US and China) showed reduced levels of race-gender associations relative to Black men and Asian women.”
“This suggests that occupying a counter-stereotypical identity can blunt the development of these race-gender associations. More broadly, these data highlight the importance of considering that people occupy multiple identities at once; for instance, there are unique insights that arise when taking into account both race and gender identities (rather than only looking at the impact of race or gender).”
In a second study, Axt and his team built on these findings by additionally exploring cultural context. A sample of 99 Asian Americans living in the U.S. and 184 Chinese people living in China completed the same mouse-tracking task as in Study 1. This particular sample allowed them to consider the effect of majority/minority group status.
The researchers found that both Chinese participants from China and Asian American participants showed the race–gender effect. But interestingly, the effect was stronger among the Chinese participants compared to the Asian American participants.
“Looking back, it is clear that we should have considered the simultaneous effects of race and gender on these types of associations, but this type of analysis is still relatively uncommon in psychological research,” Axt said. “Instead, most prior research only looks at factors like race (ignoring gender) or gender (ignoring race). This idea of “intersectionality” has been around for some time, and social psychology research is playing a bit of catch up in properly understanding how intersectional identities impact our psychological lives.”
The findings from the second study suggests race–gender associations are not weakened by greater intergroup contact or exposure to counter-stereotypical exemplars. The Chinese participants live in a culture where Asian ethnicity is the majority and where they are exposed to more Asian men occupying masculine roles. And yet, compared to Asians in America, they showed stronger associations between Asian people and femininity.
“Chinese participants can illuminate factors that give rise to associations between Asian with female and Black with male,” the study authors write. “For one, these data indicate that race–gender associations exist beyond contexts where Asian people are a minority or Black people are a significant portion of the population.”
The authors note that future studies could improve on the study design by randomizing all measures, to prevent the mouse-tracking task from potentially influencing participants’ responses on other measures. They also suggest that future research should consider whether the race–gender effect might contribute to meaningful outcomes — possibly influencing the way people evaluate job candidates or romantic partners.
“In the future, we are interested in seeing how these race-gender associations are related to various other behaviors, such as relationship preferences or the evaluation of job candidates,” Axt said.
The study, “Asian Men and Black Women Hold Weaker Race–Gender Associations: Evidence From the United States and China”, was authored by Jordan R. Axt, S. Atwood, Thomas Talhelm, and Eric Hehman.