New research is providing insight into how people associate race with gender.
In psychology, it is an established belief that people make associations based on components of a person’s social identity, which includes age, race and gender.
According to study author Jordan Robert Axt, an assistant professor of psychology at McGill University, the previous studies “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.”
To determine whether a person’s ingroup identity and group status play a factor in such associations, Axt’s research team conducted two studies.
The first study involved a mouse-tracking task given to a sample composed of 1,071 Black, White, East Asian and Hispanic U.S. residents. Researchers were able to determine how belonging to a stigmatized group might influence race-gender associations.
Images featuring Black and East Asian faces were shown to each participant, who then had to categorize the faces as either male or female via a mouse click. The task was followed by a questionnaire that involved rating the extent that the participant associated Black people and East Asian people with masculinity or femininity.
While the mouse-tracking task mostly yielded the expected race-gender association established by the previous studies in most of the participants, the researchers found that the associations were weaker among Black women and East Asian men.
“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,” Axt told PsyPost. “This suggests that occupying a counter-stereotypical identity can blunt the development of these race-gender associations.”
He added that their findings 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.”
The research team further explored the cultural context of their findings in a second mouse-tracking study that involved 99 Asian American participants in the U.S. and 184 Chinese participants living in China.
In the second study, the researchers found that while both Chinese participants and Asian American participants showed the race-gender effect, it was stronger among those from China. According to Axt, the results point to race-gender associations not being weakened by greater intergroup contact or exposure to counter-stereotypical examples.
“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,” he wrote in the study.