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J Pers Soc Psychol. 2008 Oct;95(4):991-1004. doi: 10.1037/a0012978.

Lay theory of race affects and moderates Asian Americans' responses toward American culture.

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Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, IL 61820, USA.


People may hold different understandings of race that might affect how they respond to the culture of groups deemed to be racially distinct. The present research tests how this process is moderated by the minority individual's lay theory of race. An essentialist lay theory of race (i.e., that race reflects deep-seated, inalterable essence and is indicative of traits and ability) would orient racial minorities to rigidly adhere to their ethnic culture, whereas a social constructionist lay theory of race (i.e., that race is socially constructed, malleable, and arbitrary) would orient racial minorities to identify and cognitively assimilate toward the majority culture. To test these predictions, the authors conducted 4 studies with Asian American participants. The first 2 studies examine the effect of one's lay theory of race on perceived racial differences and identification with American culture. The last 2 studies tested the moderating effect of lay theory of race on identification and assimilation toward the majority American culture after this culture had been primed. The results generally supported the prediction that the social constructionist theory was associated with more perceived similarity between Asians and Americans and more consistent identification and assimilation toward American culture, compared with the essentialist theory.

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