Investigating Discrimination as a Predictor of the Alternating Identity Style and its Outcomes: An Experimental Study
Cultural identity styles refer to the strategies bicultural individuals use to negotiate cultural identity-relevant issues. The alternating identity style (AIS) involves shifting cultural identities depending on context and is known to be predicted by exposure to negative socio-political factors, including discrimination. In turn, the AIS has been linked to greater cultural identity conflict, leading to poorer psychological wellbeing; however, these associations have only been examined in cross-sectional, correlational research. The current study used an experimental design to investigate whether being exposed to discriminatory comments (experimental condition) increases the use of AIS, cultural identity conflict (CIC), and psychological symptoms and decreases life satisfaction, in comparison to being exposed to neutral comments (control condition) and if the effects of discrimination on well-being are mediated, in turn, by the AIS and CIC. Chinese American participants (N = 191) viewed a fictitious Facebook post depicting a US naturalization ceremony, along with one of two different sets of comments – discriminatory or neutral. They then completed a survey including manipulation checks, measures of AIS, CIC, psychological symptoms, and life satisfaction. Participants viewed the discriminatory and neutral comments as significantly different from each other, suggesting the experimental manipulation was successful. There were no significant differences in the AIS and life satisfaction between the two conditions, but those in the discrimination condition reported significantly more psychological symptoms and marginally higher levels of CIC. Path analysis revealed that discrimination predicted greater CIC, which mediated the effects of both discrimination and the AIS on well-being outcomes. While the experimental manipulation was effective, the results highlight difficulties in capturing the use of the AIS in the here and now and suggest directions for future studies.