It is awidely held belief that racial groups have underlying essences. We hypothesized that bicultural individuals who hold this essentialist belief about race are oriented to perceive rigid interracial boundaries and experience difficulty passing between their ethnic culture and the host culture. As predicted, we found that the more strongly Chinese American participants endorsed an essentialist belief about race, the less effective they were in switching rapidly between Chinese and American cultural frames in a reaction time task (Study 1), and the greater emotional reactivity they exhibited (reflected in heightened skin conductance) while they talked about their Chinese and American cultural experiences (Study 2). Taken together, these findings suggest that essentialist beliefs about race set up a mind-set that influences how bicultural individuals navigate between their ethnic and host cultures.
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