As a racial group, Asians are incredibly diverse; however, psychology research may not capture heterogeneity within this social category. Recent findings suggest that U.S. perceivers consider East Asian (e.g., Chinese, Japanese) Americans as more prototypically Asian American than South (e.g., Indian, Pakistani) or Southeast Asian Americans (e.g., Filipino, Vietnamese; Goh & McCue, 2021). We investigated whether artifacts of this cultural default are present in research conducted by U.S.-based psychologists. We also examined non-U.S.-based research to understand the potential limits of this prototype and its influence on research, globally. We expected to observe that most participants in psychology research are of East Asian descent and that most stimuli used to represent Asian identity actually depict East Asian (versus South and Southeast Asian) identity. To test our hypotheses, we conducted a literature search of psychology publications that mentioned “Asian” in the abstract. In line with our hypothesis, researchers were more likely to include East Asian participants and to present East Asian stimuli than to include or present South or Southeast Asian participants and stimuli in their research – results we observed in research conducted both within and outside of the U.S. We draw on intersectionality theory to inform recommendations for how researchers may work toward greater diversity and inclusion in their research.

Within psychology, most research does not acknowledge race, even though racism and racial inequality may shape most psychological processes (DeJesus et al., 2019; Roberts et al., 2020). Indeed, only 5% of cognitive, developmental, and social psychology articles across six journals from the 1970s to 2010s highlighted race (Roberts et al., 2020), and 73% of articles across 11 psychology journals published from 2015 to 2016 failed to mention the racial identities of their participant sample (DeJesus et al., 2019). However, when research does acknowledge race, it is unclear how psychology engages with specific racial groups. Do psychologists acknowledge the diversity within racial groups in their research? Or do researchers homogenize racial groups by focusing on group members who are perceived as prototypical of the group? In our paper, we examined how psychologists represent Asian identity in their research. By looking at how published articles engage with race can we identify what norms and barriers need to be addressed to make race-related research more inclusive. Specifically, we asked: Does psychology acknowledge the diversity of the Asian category by including participants across Asian ethnic origins, or does one Asian ethnic group dominate research on Asian identity? We tested this question by using an intersectional framework that encourages researchers to critically consider who is included within a category under study (Cole, 2009).

We decided to focus on Asian and Asian American identity in our research because, despite the vast diversity among individuals who identify as Asian and Asian American, the Asian group is frequently portrayed as a monolith (Jin, 2021). As a result, stereotypical representations of Asians imply that all members of the group are similar. For example, within psychology, Asian Americans are often subjected to the model minority myth, or the narrative that, in comparison to other racial minority groups, Asian Americans are academically and economically successful (Chun, 1995). However, sociologist William Petersen (1966) used that term to describe Japanese Americans’ “success” story. Now model minority is often a common stereotype used to describe the experiences of the entirety of the Asian American category despite not every ethnic subgroup being academically and economically successful (Jin, 2021). Additionally, the implication that Asians are a monolith is problematic because it erases inequality between Asian ethnic groups, as well as unique forms of oppression faced by people of varying Asian ethnicities. For example, given the rise in anti-Asian sentiment during and following the COVID-19 pandemic, many Asian activists, scholars, and journalists demanded that non-Asian individuals acknowledge the heterogeneity within the Asian American group. Specifically, the reference to the COVID-19 virus as the “Chinese virus” by U.S. government leaders led to many Asian Americans being told that their people were responsible for the pandemic or that they should return to China (Stop AAPI Hate, 2021). However, some Asian Americans who experienced this form of verbal harassment were of a different Asian ethnic subgroup (Ruiz et al., 2023). Psychological research may contribute to the harmful assumption of homogeneity if one Asian ethnic group dominates research. Therefore, identifying who is included within, and who gets left out of, research on Asian identity has implications in the ability of psychology to speak to the diverse concerns and experiences faced by Asian individuals.

Many psychologists have advocated for the need to apply an intersectional framework to research to understand systemic racism (Buchanan et al., 2021; Sabik et al., 2021; Syed et al., 2018). Within psychology, intersectional research tends to focus on the experiences of individuals with multiple stigmatized identities (Else-Quest & Hyde, 2016). Indeed, Crenshaw (1989) originally articulated intersectionality as a framework for understanding intersecting systems of oppression faced by Black women. Here, we apply intersectionality using the conceptual framework described by Cole (2009), who recommends that psychologists consider three questions during the research process: “Who is included within this category, what role does inequality play, and where are the similarities?”. Similarly, Syed and colleagues (2018) asked psychologists to consider: “From whose vantage point is research conducted, what types of questions are valued, and who gets left out?”. We were interested in the related questions of “who is included within this category?” and “who gets left out?” as they apply to research conscious of Asian identity.

Specifically, our examination of how psychologists engage with diversity within the Asian American, and broader Asian, categories can be considered within the framework of intersectionality because intersectionality calls for attention to diversity within categories. Although intersectionality is often used to study how individuals experience their identities across multiple stigmatized social groups, intersectionality can also be applied to study the experiences of individuals’ multiple identities within a social group (e.g., a person may identify as Asian and as Thai). Indeed, intersectionality scholars suggest that there is no one way to study intersectionality due to its “nuanced, complex nature” and “radical potential,” and that the framework may be applied productively as long as intersectionality is used as a “tool for social justice” (Warner, 2016, p. 343). We argue that using an intersectional framework to study the Asian category allows researchers to understand that Asian individuals face oppression related not only to having an Asian identity but also to having a specific ethnic identity (e.g., Chinese, Filipino, Indian). For example, East Asian Americans tend to face discrimination in the workplace such that East Asian Americans are underrepresented in leadership positions (i.e., the bamboo ceiling effect) (Hyun, 2005). However, the bamboo ceiling effect is known to primarily affect East Asian Americans and not South Asian Americans (Lu, 2022). Additionally, within the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics fields, Asian Americans are often said to be overrepresented. When examining STEM representation by Asian ethnic groups, only 10% of Vietnamese and Filipino individuals have obtained a post-graduate education in comparison to 43% of Indian and 29% of Chinese individuals (Shivaram, 2021). Moreover, the median household income for Asian Americans in 2019 was \$78,000 which was higher than the national median of \$66,000. However, the Burmese ethnic group has a median household income of only \$46,000 (Jin, 2021). Thus, at its core, intersectionality emphasizes that individuals with racial minority identities contend with interlocking systems of oppression that affect how they experience the world (Cole, 2009). Similarly, if psychology research relies primarily on East Asian conceptions of who is “Asian,” it may fail to capture the unique forms of discrimination that more marginalized Asian ethnic groups experience.

We examine both Asian American and Asian representation in psychology in the current paper, and it is important not to conflate the two categories. We define “Asian American” using the U.S. Census Bureau’s definition of who is considered Asian within the U.S.: “a person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam” (U.S. Office of Management and Budget, 1997). This definition constrains the Asian American category to include East (e.g., Chinese, Japanese, Korean), South (e.g., Indian, Pakistani), and Southeast Asian individuals (e.g., Cambodian, Malaysian, Filipino, Thai, Vietnamese) which we acknowledge does not fully capture the Asian continent. However, our literature search was not limited to research conducted in the U.S. where the term Asian American would be the most appropriate. Asian Americans and Asian individuals from non-U.S. countries have different experiences shaped by the country where they live. For example, an individual of Pakistani descent living in the U.S. will most likely have a different conception of their identity than an individual of Pakistani descent living in Pakistan. However, research on the “perpetual foreigner” stereotype suggests that white U.S. perceivers may not make this distinction and tend to assume that Asian people are foreign-born, even when they were born in the U.S. (Zou & Cheryan, 2017). We compare patterns of participant recruitment and stimuli selection between U.S. and non-U.S.-based research to examine whether cultural stereotypes prevalent in the U.S. shape the behaviors of U.S. researchers.

We also distinguish racial from ethnic identity. In line with previous recommendations, we conceptualize Asian identity to be a racial identity and national origin identities (e.g., Korean, Cambodian) to be ethnic identities. Race implies power relative to a group that has dominance (i.e., white people in the U.S.) over other racial groups. Additionally, one’s racial identity within the U.S. is often determined based on the individual’s physical characteristics such as skin tone (Cooper & Leong, 2008). In contrast, ethnicity relates to meanings and values within a group (Markus, 2008). Therefore, one’s ethnic identity reflects the cultural practice and the maintenance of cultural characteristics associated with an individual’s country of origin (Cooper & Leong, 2008). There is evidence suggesting that Asian individuals, themselves, distinguish between their racial and ethnic identities. For example, when Asian American students discussed their ethnic identities, they discussed the cultural practices of their country of origin. However, when they discussed their racial identity, they focused on how having a non-white identity means that they are not accepted within the U.S. society (Min & Kim, 2000). Additionally, Asian Americans report negative emotions when their ethnic identity is neglected or mistaken for an incorrect Asian ethnic identity (Flores & Huo, 2013).

Heterogeneity within a social category can have several meanings. Researchers can examine racialized experiences as those experiences intersect with oppression based on gender, sexual orientation, and/or social class (e.g., oppression faced by women of color; Cole, 2009). However, perceivers, which include researchers, may fail to consider or examine variation within a racial category because our social cognition is susceptible to cultural defaults, or increased attention to prototypical category members (Cheryan & Markus, 2020; Smith & Zárate, 1992). The influence of cultural defaults may lead researchers to feel confident generalizing findings based on category members perceived as prototypical (e.g., straight, cis-gender, Black men) to all people within a social group (Remedios & Vinluan, forthcoming). Moreover, researchers who study experiences of racism among racial minority participants may fail to report the additional identities (e.g., gender, ethnic identity) held by participants. Researchers may also ignore unique experiences at the intersections of systems of oppression by avoiding analyses (e.g., examining gender differences or differences between ethnicities and/or cultures) that capture variation within the group, thereby operationalizing racial groups as a monolith (Zuberi & Bonilla-Silva, 2008). Unfortunately, such research practices erase the unique experiences of many people and obscure our understanding of psychological processes (Garay & Remedios, 2021).

Within the U.S., 22 million people identify as ‘Asian’ and claim more than 30 Asian ethnicities, however, ‘Asian American’ is often considered by outsiders to be a monolith (Jin, 2021). In the context of the Asian American category, social-cognitive research shows that White, Black, Latino, and even Asian Americans perceive East Asian Americans as more prototypical of Asian Americans in general than South and Southeast Asian Americans (Goh & McCue, 2021; J. Lee & Ramakrishnan, 2020). These results suggest that racially diverse groups of U.S. perceivers envision East Asian Americans to be representative of the entire Asian American category. A likely source of bias is the cultural context of the U.S. where non-Asian U.S. perceivers’ earliest exposures to the Asian American category may be of East Asian individuals. For example, when non-Asian U.S. perceivers watch Asian characters in movies or on shows, they are more likely to see East Asian characters than South or Southeast Asian characters (Yuen et al., 2021). Additionally, non-Asian individuals’ exposure to Asian cuisine is most likely that of East Asian cuisine with 73% of Asian restaurants within the U.S. serving either Chinese, Korean, or Japanese food (Sono & Widjaya, 2023). Moreover, when children in the U.S. learn about Asian history, they are more likely to learn about events in East Asian countries or prominent East Asian individuals than about countries or individuals associated with other parts of the continent (Suh et al., 2015). Finally, widely known historical events involving Asian Americans involved East Asian groups such as the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 and Japanese Americans being forced into internment camps in the U.S. following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 (E. Lee, 2015).

How cultural defaults may impact U.S.-based psychology research

We theorize that U.S.-centric research reflects the same biases well-documented among U.S. participants that produce cultural defaults and render East Asian Americans as prototypical Asian Americans. As a result, U.S. psychology may fail to acknowledge the ethnic diversity of the Asian American category. The implications of such a bias in the literature are numerous. Research demonstrating that stereotype content differs depending on the ethnicity of the Asian target (T. L. Lee & Fiske, 2006) showed that white U.S. participants held different representations of members of different Asian ethnic groups. This may mean, for example, that findings observed in studies employing Chinese stimuli may not hold in studies employing Filipino stimuli.

Cultural defaults may also shape how psychologists operationalize “Asian” and how they interpret data. When researchers claim to be studying Asian identity but rely on data from East Asian participants or present participants with East Asian-appearing stimuli, it is unclear to whom the effects should be expected to apply (Simons et al., 2017). For example, attempts to replicate findings may fail when the initial research failed to specify that they relied on a particular Asian ethnicity, and when replication research involves a more diverse Asian sample or presents participants with diverse sets of Asian stimuli. More insidious is the potential for cultural defaults to perpetuate narratives about whose data, concerns, and experiences are informative and important to study (Buchanan et al., 2021). When psychologists draw conclusions about Asians from data from mostly East Asian individuals, it implies that data from South and Southeast Asian individuals are not needed (Remedios, 2022). This practice also implies that the experiences of Asian Americans are the same, regardless of ethnic identity. Homogenizing the Asian American category obscures the specific experiences and concerns faced by South and Southeast Asian individuals.

We theorize that individual and structural biases may lead psychologists to center East Asian identity in research on Asian psychology (Arnett, 2016). Although it is possible that psychologists themselves (particularly non-Asian, U.S. psychologists) may hold mental representations of Asian identity that center East Asian prototypes, it is also the case, structurally, that most Asian undergraduate students in convenience samples identify as East Asian (U.S. Department of Education, 2019). Additionally, psychologists from East Asian universities may have access to more resources and/or may be more likely to have collaborators at U.S. institutions than psychologists from South or Southeast Asian universities – both of which may increase the likelihood that researchers from East Asian universities will be published in U.S. psychology journals (Kiling & Bunga, 2015). These practices may be particularly likely to happen when psychologists are not intentional about inclusion (i.e., psychologists can sample deliberately if they choose to do so) and when there is inequality across countries in terms of resources and access to U.S. journals.

We examined articles that included “Asian” in the abstract to answer the following questions: 1) Do psychologists report the ethnicities of Asian participants? And if so, what ethnicities are represented? and 2) Do psychologists identify the ethnicities represented by stimuli (e.g., photos) presented to participants? And if so, what ethnicities are represented? We expected that there would be a greater representation of East Asian participants and stimuli than South or Southeast Asian participants and stimuli in U.S. psychological research. We also examined research based outside of the U.S., reasoning that structural biases (e.g., inequality in access to resources) may also lead to the centering of East Asian identity. Lastly, given that psychologists often do not report the demographic characteristics of their samples (e.g., Rad et al., 2018), we predicted that researchers studying Asian identity would often not specify the ethnic identities of their participants and their stimuli and would instead homogenize Asian identity by referring to participants and stimuli as “Asian”. Indeed, this lack of documentation may obscure an overreliance on East Asian participants and stimuli in psychology and represent a barrier to increased diversity and inclusion in research conscious of Asian identity.

Transparency and Openness

Data files, literature search instructions, and article citations included in the literature search are available on the Open Science Framework: https://osf.io/vpq3j/?view_only=ed98253f1018475b9ae9dd82f58933e3

Journal Selection

We followed the same journal selection criteria used by Roberts and colleagues (2020), who focused in their literature search on psychology journals that have been in publication for the last 50 years. The included journals also had high readership and high impact factors. We reasoned that a focus on such journals makes sense, given that, arguably, how research is presented in the most widely read and cited journals in our field has the most impact on how people think about a given topic. We focused on journals in cognitive (Cognition, Cognitive Psychology), developmental (Child Development, Developmental Psychology), and social (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin) psychology to gain a broad view of how Asian identity is represented within psychology. We also included two journals that are considered illustrative of “general” psychology (Psychological Science, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General). Finally, we included the journal Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology to determine if journals that publish work that explicitly focus on ethnic differences and the role of identity in psychological constructs may be more likely than other journals to acknowledge the diversity among Asians and Asian Americans.

Coding Procedure

We used PsycInfo to conduct our literature search. Coders initially searched for the term “Asian” located anywhere in the abstract. We rationalized that searching for “Asian” in the abstract would yield more articles than searching for “Asian” in the title or as a keyword. Titles and keywords refer to psychological constructs or theories being studied and do not always mention what populations were recruited to test hypotheses. The articles included were published from when the journal first began publishing papers, until June 2021. Three journals did not include any articles that mentioned “Asian” in their abstracts: Cognition, Cognitive Psychology, and Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Similar to Roberts and colleagues’ (2020) findings, our results show that, within cognitive psychology, racial identity may be overlooked with respect to psychological processes.

The complete descriptions of articles mentioning “Asian” in their abstracts are provided in Table 1. The search yielded N = 531 articles – 465 of those articles involved data collection. For many of these articles, researchers conducted multiple empirical studies. An initial set of coders were trained to extract information from the methods section of each empirical study. Coders initially coded several practice articles together with the first author. Then, coders were allowed to code another set of practice articles independently and the first author reviewed the results and provided feedback. Afterward, coders were allowed to code the rest of the articles for a given journal independently. For each study (or studies if there were multiple studies within an article), coders were instructed to read the methods section and indicate the following: 1) in what country the data were collected; 2) the total number of Asian participants or stimuli; 3) whether or not the researchers specified ethnicity with respect to participants and/or stimuli (e.g., Japanese, Pakistani, Thai); and 4) if Asian ethnicity was specified, the number of participants or stimuli representative of each ethnicity1. Next, a new set of coders not involved in data entry were instructed to check the data. Any discrepancies were resolved by the first author by thoroughly reading the methods section of the study for which a disagreement occurred. The complete instructions given to the coders as well as the codebook are available on the Open Science Framework: https://osf.io/pws63/?view_only=9a3ff224f5b54489a75c8d774b7cfc1a.

Table 1.
Literature search results by journal
 Journal  
 CP CD DP JPSP PSPB JEPG PS CDEMP Total 
Total Number of Articles 54 49 85 78 42 223 531 
Empirical Articles   41 40 82 77  28 197 465 
Review/ Corrigendum   13  26 56 
           
Total Number of Studies 44 45 246 202 83 234 854 
           
Studies with Asian participants: Overall  44 41 222 179  70 220 776 
Ethnicity: specified   30 22 148 93  44 145 482 
Ethnicity: unspecified   21 19 73 94  26 75 308 
Studies with Asian participants: U.S.  35 33 116 119  44 211 558 
Ethnicity: specified   17 14 51 33  20 136 271 
Ethnicity: unspecified   19 19 69 86  24 73 290 
Studies with Asian participants: non-U.S.  10 107 69  26 13 232 
Ethnicity: specified   100 64  24 11 214 
Ethnicity: unspecified    23 
           
Studies with Asian stimuli: Overall  83 59  27 90 265 
Ethnicity: specified   23  20 60 
Ethnicity: unspecified   60 53  19 73 211 
Studies with Asian stimuli: U.S.  51 52  23 86 216 
Ethnicity: specified   14  17 40 
Ethnicity: unspecified   37 49  19 73 179 
Studies with Asian stimuli: non-U.S.  26  37 
Ethnicity: specified    10 
Ethnicity: unspecified   22  27 
Data Collection Location: Number of Studies         
U.S. 36 37 182 149 71 265 740 
Non-U.S. countries 16 13 162 91 32 15 329 
East Asian   12 98 54  21 196 
South Asian    11 
Southeast Asian   10  21 
 Journal  
 CP CD DP JPSP PSPB JEPG PS CDEMP Total 
Total Number of Articles 54 49 85 78 42 223 531 
Empirical Articles   41 40 82 77  28 197 465 
Review/ Corrigendum   13  26 56 
           
Total Number of Studies 44 45 246 202 83 234 854 
           
Studies with Asian participants: Overall  44 41 222 179  70 220 776 
Ethnicity: specified   30 22 148 93  44 145 482 
Ethnicity: unspecified   21 19 73 94  26 75 308 
Studies with Asian participants: U.S.  35 33 116 119  44 211 558 
Ethnicity: specified   17 14 51 33  20 136 271 
Ethnicity: unspecified   19 19 69 86  24 73 290 
Studies with Asian participants: non-U.S.  10 107 69  26 13 232 
Ethnicity: specified   100 64  24 11 214 
Ethnicity: unspecified    23 
           
Studies with Asian stimuli: Overall  83 59  27 90 265 
Ethnicity: specified   23  20 60 
Ethnicity: unspecified   60 53  19 73 211 
Studies with Asian stimuli: U.S.  51 52  23 86 216 
Ethnicity: specified   14  17 40 
Ethnicity: unspecified   37 49  19 73 179 
Studies with Asian stimuli: non-U.S.  26  37 
Ethnicity: specified    10 
Ethnicity: unspecified   22  27 
Data Collection Location: Number of Studies         
U.S. 36 37 182 149 71 265 740 
Non-U.S. countries 16 13 162 91 32 15 329 
East Asian   12 98 54  21 196 
South Asian    11 
Southeast Asian   10  21 

Note: C = Cognition, CP = Cognitive Psychology, CD = Child Development, DP = Developmental Psychology, JPSP = Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, PSPB = Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, JEPG = Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, PS = Psychological Science; CDEMP = Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology The number of studies with Asian participants and Asian stimuli will not add up to the total number of studies because some studies have both Asian participants and Asian stimuli.

Where does research on Asian identity take place?

We provide a summary of the countries in which data collection took place in Table 1. A more detailed summary can be found in the Supplement. For some studies, researchers recruited participants from multiple countries – therefore, the total number of studies presented below will not be equal to the overall total number of studies found in our literature search (K2 = 465 studies). We found that most studies, across all journals, involved samples recruited from, or at least partially recruited from, the U.S. (k = 740 studies) compared to non-U.S. countries (k = 329 studies). Of the non-U.S. countries, data collection was more likely to take place in East Asian countries (k = 196 studies) than in South (k = 11 studies) or Southeast Asian countries (k = 21 studies). See Supplement for the full list of countries included in this analysis. In subsequent analyses, we analyze the data by whether data collection took place in the U.S. or outside of the U.S.

Do psychologists specify the ethnicity of Asian participants?

Overall, we observed K = 776 studies with Asian participants. We found that k = 482 studies specified participant ethnicity, while k = 308 studies did not specify participant ethnicity. Please note that the number of specified studies and unspecified studies does not equal K = 776 because some studies recruited multiple samples from different locations (e.g., different countries). As a result, some samples’ ethnicities were specified while other samples’ ethnicities were not.

Within each journal, we then counted the total number of Asian participants and the number of participants per ethnic group and found the percentage of participants within each ethnic group by dividing the number of participants per ethnic group by the total number of Asian participants3. When looking at the total number of Asian participants (N = 181,423), 63.81% of the Asian participants’ ethnicities were specified (n = 115,775 participants) while 36.19% were not specified (n = 65,648 participants) (see Figure 1).

Figure 1.
Asian participants by ethnicity and by journal – total sample

Note: East, South, and Southeast Asian are listed as ethnicities in this figure because in several papers, researchers noted only that their participants were of East, South, or Southeast Asian descent and did not further indicate the Asian ethnicity of these participants. CD = Child Development, DP = Developmental Psychology, JPSP = Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, PSPB = Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, PS = Psychological Science, CDEMP = Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology

Figure 1.
Asian participants by ethnicity and by journal – total sample

Note: East, South, and Southeast Asian are listed as ethnicities in this figure because in several papers, researchers noted only that their participants were of East, South, or Southeast Asian descent and did not further indicate the Asian ethnicity of these participants. CD = Child Development, DP = Developmental Psychology, JPSP = Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, PSPB = Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, PS = Psychological Science, CDEMP = Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology

Close modal

Among studies in which participant ethnicity was specified as either East, South, or Southeast Asian, we were interested in patterns of ethnic group representation. When ethnicity was specified (N = 109,519 participants), we observed that 70.13% of Asian participants were of East Asian descent (n = 76,806), 17.91% were of South Asian descent (n = 19,615), and 11.96% were of Southeast Asian descent (n = 13,098).

U.S. vs. non-U.S. sample comparison

Within the U.S. sample, k = 271 studies specified Asian ethnicity and k = 290 studies did not specify ethnicity. In contrast, within the non-U.S. sample, k = 214 studies specified Asian ethnicity while only k = 23 of the studies did not specify ethnicity.

When looking at the total number of Asian participants, within the U.S. sample, 61.23% of the Asian participants’ ethnicities were specified (n = 74,009) while 38.77 % of participants’ ethnicities were not specified (n = 46,866). In contrast, within the non-U.S. sample, 85.96% of Asian participants’ ethnicities were specified (n = 51,695) while 14.04% of participants’ ethnicities were not specified (n = 8,443). When Asian participants’ ethnicities were specified as East, South, or Southeast Asian, we saw that, in the U.S. sample, 60.25%% of participants were of East Asian descent (n = 42,240), 23.43% were of South Asian descent (n = 16,422), and 16.32% were of Southeast Asian descent (n = 11,442). However, in the non-U.S. sample, 90.27% of participants were of East Asian descent (n = 44,495), 6.48% were of South Asian descent (n = 3,193), and 3.25% were of Southeast Asian descent (n = 1,601). See Figure 2.

Figure 2.

Note: East, South, and Southeast Asian are listed as ethnicities in this figure because in several papers, researchers noted only that their participants were of East, South, or Southeast Asian descent and did not further indicate the Asian ethnicity of these participants. CD = Child Development, DP = Developmental Psychology, JPSP = Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, PSPB = Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, PS = Psychological Science, CDEMP = Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology

Figure 2.

Note: East, South, and Southeast Asian are listed as ethnicities in this figure because in several papers, researchers noted only that their participants were of East, South, or Southeast Asian descent and did not further indicate the Asian ethnicity of these participants. CD = Child Development, DP = Developmental Psychology, JPSP = Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, PSPB = Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, PS = Psychological Science, CDEMP = Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology

Close modal

Participant Data: Discussion

Our results suggest that most researchers conducting studies conscious of Asian identity record and describe the ethnicities of Asian participants. Nevertheless, a sizeable number of studies omitted ethnicity information, reporting only that participants were Asian. This practice is worth noting, given that we focused on articles selected for their consciousness of Asian identity. We would expect researchers working in this space to be committed to transparently reporting Asian participants’ ethnicities. One might then expect these data to overestimate the extent to which psychologists in general (beyond psychologists who are interested in Asian psychology) consider and describe the ethnicities of Asian participants.

Furthermore, research conducted outside of the U.S. was more likely than U.S.-based research to include the ethnicities of Asian participants. Researchers working outside of the U.S. may be more likely than those working within the U.S. to specify the ethnicities of Asian participants because participants may have been recruited from different countries. Thus, the practice of reporting ethnicity may reflect a broader practice of reporting recruitment sites. For U.S.-based research, by definition, participants came from the same country. Moreover, the likelihood that Asian participants’ ethnicities were specified depended on the journal, but not on the area within psychology.

When Asian participants’ ethnicities were specified, most Asian participants were of East Asian descent – this was true for both U.S. and non-U.S. samples. Indeed, we found a greater discrepancy between East Asian and South and Southeast Asian representation in the non-U.S. sample of studies than in the U.S. sample. This may be due to the number of participants in this category who were recruited from East Asian countries. We found that, of the 312 studies that recruited participants from countries outside of the U.S., 192 studies recruited participants from an East Asian country. This finding may demonstrate how structural biases, such as East Asian institutions having access to more resources than other Asian institutions, or East Asian psychologists being more likely than other Asian psychologists to have collaborators at U.S. institutions contribute to East Asian participants being centered in the literature.

Does psychology specify the ethnicity of Asian stimuli presented to participants?

We defined “stimuli” as: 1) photos of Asian individuals presented to participants (participants could have been of any race or ethnicity), 2) measures about Asian individuals completed by participants, 3) the involvement of Asian confederates/actors in the research, and 4) manipulations that were theorized to prime participants with the Asian category. A total of K = 265 studies involved research in which participants were presented with stimuli meant to operationalize Asian identity. We found that k = 60 studies specified stimuli ethnicity, while k = 211 studies did not specify stimuli ethnicity (see Table 1). Similar to the participant data, the number of specified and unspecified studies does not equal K = 265 studies because some studies presented participants with multiple stimuli, for some of which ethnicity was specified, and for others, ethnicity was not specified.

As in the process we used to code participants, with respect to stimuli (for which ethnicity was specified) we calculated the total number of Asian stimuli and the number of stimuli per ethnic group and then found the percentage for each ethnic group within each journal. When looking at the total number of Asian stimuli (N = 5,530), for 54.57% of the stimuli Asian ethnicity was specified (n = 3,012), while for 45.54% of the stimuli, ethnicity was not specified (n = 2,518) (see Figure 3). While these numbers suggest that researchers tend to specify the Asian ethnicity that their stimuli are meant to operationalize, it is important to note that the number of stimuli for which ethnicity was specified (n = 3,012) comes from a small number of studies (k = 60). Here, we refer to studies in which the number of stimuli was greater than 100.

Figure 3.
Asian stimuli by ethnicity and by journal – total sample

Note: East, South, and Southeast Asian are listed as ethnicities in this figure because in several papers, researchers noted only that their participants were of East, South, or Southeast Asian descent and did not further indicate the Asian ethnicity of these participants. CD = Child Development, DP = Developmental Psychology, JPSP = Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, PSPB = Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, PS = Psychological Science, CDEMP = Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology

Figure 3.
Asian stimuli by ethnicity and by journal – total sample

Note: East, South, and Southeast Asian are listed as ethnicities in this figure because in several papers, researchers noted only that their participants were of East, South, or Southeast Asian descent and did not further indicate the Asian ethnicity of these participants. CD = Child Development, DP = Developmental Psychology, JPSP = Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, PSPB = Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, PS = Psychological Science, CDEMP = Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology

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Among studies that specified whether the stimuli were meant to represent East, South, or Southeast Asian identity, 99.42% of the stimuli were meant to represent East Asian identity (n = 2,933), 0.17% were meant to represent South Asian identity (n = 5), and 0.41% were meant to represent Southeast Asian identity (n = 12).

U.S. vs. non-U.S. sample comparison

Within the U.S. sample, k = 40 studies specified Asian ethnicity while k = 179 studies did not specify ethnicity. Within the non-U.S. sample, k = 10 studies specified Asian ethnicity while k = 27 of the studies did not specify ethnicity.

When looking at the total number of stimuli meant to represent Asian identity, within the U.S. sample, ethnicity was specified for 40.97% of the stimuli (n = 1,197) while ethnicity was not specified for 59.03% of the stimuli (n = 1,725). In contrast, within the non-U.S. sample, ethnicity was specified for 12.85% of the stimuli (n = 116) while ethnicity was not specified for 87.15% of the stimuli (n = 787). When the ethnicity of the Asian stimuli was specified as East, South, or Southeast Asian, we saw that, in the U.S. sample, 98.50% of the stimuli represented East Asian identity (n = 1,118), 0.44% of the stimuli represented South Asian identity (n = 5), and 1.06% of the stimuli represented Southeast Asian identity (n = 112). However, in the non-U.S. sample, 100% of the stimuli represented East Asian identity (n = 116), 0% of the stimuli represented South Asian identity (n = 0), and 0% of the stimuli represented Southeast Asian identity. See Figure 4.

Figure 4.

Note: East, South, and Southeast Asian are listed as ethnicities in this figure because in several papers, researchers noted only that their participants were of East, South, or Southeast Asian descent and did not further indicate the Asian ethnicity of these participants. CD = Child Development, DP = Developmental Psychology, JPSP = Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, PSPB = Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, PS = Psychological Science, CDEMP = Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology

Figure 4.

Note: East, South, and Southeast Asian are listed as ethnicities in this figure because in several papers, researchers noted only that their participants were of East, South, or Southeast Asian descent and did not further indicate the Asian ethnicity of these participants. CD = Child Development, DP = Developmental Psychology, JPSP = Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, PSPB = Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, PS = Psychological Science, CDEMP = Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology

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Stimuli Data: Discussion

Compared to the discrepancies we observed concerning who is represented within Asian-conscious research, the bias toward East Asian identity within stimuli in psychology is larger. This is problematic because researchers have more control over the stimuli, or more broadly, the research design than they have over their participant sample. To be clear, we are not suggesting that researchers lack total control over their samples; indeed, researchers often exaggerate how difficult it is to “reach” marginalized populations, using such exaggerations as excuses to rely on homogeneous samples and to blame marginalized participants for their own exclusion from research (Carter-Sowell & Zimmerman, 2015). However, given that psychologists tend to rely on convenience samples, their samples are likely to reflect the racial or ethnic makeup of their academic institution or the location where they conduct their work. In contrast, researchers have near-total control over the stimuli they select for their studies. Researchers can actively choose to employ photo stimuli representative of East, South, and Southeast Asian individuals within a study. The options are even more flexible when it comes to measures or vignettes constructed by researchers themselves to represent Asian identity. However, our findings show that researchers do not tend to take advantage of such flexibility to expand the reach and the inclusiveness of their science, relying heavily, instead, on East Asian operationalizations of Asian identity.

We also observed that researchers tend to choose images of East Asian individuals to construct studies that examine Asian-related perceptions. It is the case that normed, validated, and publicly available databases of stimuli available to researchers tend to include more East Asian than South or Southeast Asian individuals, suggesting that researchers have limited access to diverse stimulus sets. For example, Chung and colleagues (2019) identified 21 commonly used facial databases within psychology: 11 consisted exclusively of photos of East Asian individuals (e.g., Korean Face Database) while two of the databases included photos of Asian individuals but did not specify the Asian ethnicities of the individuals in those photos (e.g., Chicago Face Database). It is also possible that U.S.-based researchers intentionally select photos of East Asian individuals because they are aware that U.S. participants perceive East Asians as more prototypical than South and Southeast Asian individuals of the Asian category. However, if researchers are doing this intentionally it would be helpful if they were explicit about this rationale. We did not observe that researchers explicitly mentioned an awareness of prototypicality biases, nor that they discussed how such biases could influence (or had influenced) how they select stimuli.

Overall, we show that, when psychologists examine Asian identity, most participants (for whom ethnicity is identified) are East Asian and most stimuli (when ethnicity is specified) represent East Asian identity. These findings reveal that psychology is not currently poised to speak to the heterogeneity of Asian identity (Sabik et al., 2021). By treating this category as a monolith, research may reinforce an inaccurate portrayal of Asian psychology. Indeed, viewing the Asian and Asian American categories through this lens not only homogenizes vastly different identities and experiences, but also masks meaningful gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic, acculturation, and immigration differences. While psychology has often approached the study of diversity by examining differences between social groups, understanding the diversity within social groups is equally important.

Our findings suggest that inequalities exist in psychological research. However, we did not examine how the racial or ethnic identity of the researcher(s) may have affected our results. For example, Roberts et al. (2020) identified that most articles that highlighted race published across six psychological journals had a first author who identified as White. Given research that suggests White, Black, and Latino Americans are more likely to consider East Asian Americans as prototypical of the Asian category compared to Asian Americans (J. Lee & Ramakrishnan, 2020), we would expect that this bias would be greater for U.S. researchers who do not identify as Asian than for those who do. Although we would expect U.S. researchers who identify as Asian American to be more likely to acknowledge the diversity within the Asian category than non-Asian researchers and, therefore, to recruit diverse Asian participants, structural conditions (e.g., pressure to produce science quickly by relying on convenience samples) may still shape research in this case. Research also shows that East and Southeast Asian Americans are less likely to consider South Asian Americans to be Asian compared to South Asian Americans (J. Lee & Ramakrishnan, 2020).

Another limitation was that our article inclusion criterion was limited to articles that included “Asian” in the abstract. This excludes articles that used the generic terms, “race” or “culture” in the abstract but still may have recruited Asian participants or presented Asian stimuli to participants. However, we were interested in examining research that was intentional about its focus on Asian identity and for which researchers held a clear goal to understand Asian psychology. Our findings suggest that, even among articles that should adopt the highest standards for understanding Asian identity, most work relies on East Asian participants and stimuli. Therefore, we might expect articles that are less intentional about understanding Asian identity to be even more susceptible to homogenizing Asians or to allowing East Asians to “stand in” for all Asian ethnic identities.

Overall, our findings suggest that what we know about Asian identity within psychology may be more accurately described as being about East Asian identity. Whereas scholars argue that the Asian American category is socially invisible (i.e., ignored or overlooked by non-Asian Americans) in science (Yip et al., 2021), we argue that South and Southeast Asian Americans face an added layer of invisibility because researchers may ignore issues faced by individuals whom they perceive as atypical category members (Purdie-Vaughns & Eibach, 2008). As a result, we know less about the unique experiences of South and Southeast Asian individuals than East Asian individuals. This is especially concerning given that Indian Americans are the fastest-growing Asian ethnic group within the U.S. and will soon surpass, if not already, the Chinese American population (Ramakrishnan, 2023). Although research on Asian identity in general is greatly needed in a literature that largely ignores the experiences of racialized groups (Buchanan et al., 2021; Roberts et al., 2020), recruiting Asian participants or creating stimuli about Asian identity without attention to ethnicity may perpetuate the homogenization of “Asian” as a category. Researchers studying Asian identity should be specific about which Asian ethnicities are represented in their samples and/or stimuli. Sampling without intention is also likely to exacerbate the invisibility of South and Southeast Asians in psychological research. Overall, identifying which Asian ethnic groups are overlooked when studying Asian identity is important because, particularly in the context of U.S. research, doing so may shift cultural narratives to be more inclusive of under-resourced Asian American groups.

Should U.S.-based researchers use the term “Asian American”?

One could question whether it makes sense for researchers working with Asian participants in the U.S. to continue using the broad term “Asian American” given evidence that researchers struggle to acknowledge diversity within the Asian American category. However, we want to be clear that we do not think the issues we discuss stem from the term “Asian American” itself, but from how researchers conceptualize that category within their work. Indeed, the origins of this term acknowledged the diversity of the Asian American category. In 1968, two graduate students from U.C. Berkely first publicly used “Asian American” as the name for their organization meant to unite Asian individuals of varying ethnic groups for political and activist purposes (Kambhampaty, 2020). However, when U.S. researchers use the term “Asian American,” they tend to apply that term to samples that consist primarily of East Asian participants or stimuli sets. Ultimately, we recommend that researchers who use the terminology of “Asian Americans” to describe participants should acknowledge whether the research focuses on a particular Asian ethnic group.

How does psychology engage with race?

The purpose of this analysis was to examine if psychologists acknowledge heterogeneity within Asian samples and stimuli by answering the following questions: who is included and who is left out of the category? (Cole, 2009; Syed et al., 2018). Our findings suggest that in both U.S.- and non-U.S.-based research, East Asian identities are typically included within the Asian category, whereas South and Southeast Asian identities are left out. Thus, it appears that, when psychologists are conscious of Asian identity, they do not tend to do work that is representative of the diversity within the Asian category. Understanding the diversity of the Asian American category can advance psychological theory because researchers go beyond simply comparing how experiences related to South or Southeast Asian identity deviate from those related to East Asian identity (Cole, 2009). The latter method reinforces the bias that East Asian Americans are the prototypical Asian individuals by setting East Asian Americans as the standard according to which all other Asian individuals should be compared.

Furthermore, our paper highlights how an intersectional framework can demonstrate the shortcomings of our knowledge of psychological processes. While our paper focused on Asian identity, our research questions and literature search can be easily adapted to explore whether psychology research captures diversity within other racial groups, such as in work on Black or Latino/Hispanic identities. Additionally, our intersectional framework examined the within-group heterogeneity of Asian Americans via ethnic subgroup differences. However, intersectionality can also examine within-group heterogeneity of an ethnic subgroup. For example, within the Vietnamese ethnic group, there are differences in socioeconomic status and/or immigration generation to name a few. These differences in immigration generation, for example, would lead us to expect that Vietnamese Americans will have differences in how they experience daily stressors within the U.S. However, looking through the method sections of the articles in our literature search has suggested that unless researchers are primarily interested in immigration generation status, for example, then researchers are less likely to report other demographic information There was one exception: researchers who publish in Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology are more likely to report additional demographic information for Asian samples. Future research should examine heterogeneity (e.g., socioeconomic status, nativity) within Asian ethnic groups to build toward an intersectional literature on Asian identity.

Recommendations

In this section, we provide recommendations for psychologists who study Asian identity. Researchers may take the following steps to better capture the diversity of Asian participants and to better represent Asian diversity within stimuli. These recommendations are specific to Asian identity research but can be adapted to research on other social groups.

Specify the Asian ethnic origin group of participants or stimuli

First, we recommend specifying the ethnicity of participants within samples or the stimuli used to represent Asian identity. For example, if a researcher recruits Japanese participants or presents participants with South Asian faces for a study, then the researcher should clarify in their title or abstract that they are studying Japanese or South Asian identity rather than Asian identity. One way researchers can ensure that they accurately describe their Asian participants is to modify racial identity questions in a demographic survey to include options for participants to select their ethnicity. Similar to the U.S. Census item assessing race, the item could list common Asian ethnicities (e.g., Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Asian Indian, Filipino, Vietnamese) for participants to select as well as an option to list an ethnicity that is not provided. By specifying the ethnicities of participants within their samples, researchers will make clear who is included in their research. More importantly, transparent reporting identifies groups for whom more research is needed.

Attend to unique historical context and culture within the Asian category

We additionally recommend that researchers attend to the historical context of Asian cultures, especially during the hypothesis generation phase of the research process. For example, because each Asian ethnic group has a unique history of immigration into the U.S., U.S.-based researchers should be mindful of the historical context in which Asian individuals arrived in the U.S. and how that context might shape Asian individuals’ racialized experiences (e.g., Japanese immigrants arrived in the U.S. in the early 1900s as field laborers, whereas Cambodian immigrants arrived in the U.S. in the 1960s as refugees; E. Lee, 2015). Relatedly, researchers should be mindful of cultural differences among their participants. The colonization of different Asian countries by different European countries suggests that the present-day cultural traditions of Asian countries will differ. For example, the colonization of the Philippines by Spain has resulted in Filipino traditions that are similar to Spanish Catholic practices and that are not typically observed in other Asian countries (Ocampo, 2016). Additionally, during the study protocol development stage, researchers should be mindful of the items used in their studies and examine if the items are specific to certain Asian ethnic experiences while ignoring other experiences. For example, if a researcher is interested in the degree to which Asian individuals participate in cultural holidays like Lunar New Year, then the researcher should be aware that not every Asian ethnic group celebrates this holiday. Researchers should consider creating new items or adapting existing items or measures that are specific to the sample they anticipate recruiting.

Prioritize research that highlights the diversity within racial categories

If, as a field, we agree on the need to capture diversity within racial categories, journals should research that accomplishes this goal. Editors are in positions of power to determine which papers become part of the scientific literature. For example, published articles in psychology have often overlooked how culture plays a role in psychological processes and sometimes overgeneralize psychological processes observed in convenience samples to the entire human population (see Brady et al., 2018). This may be due to biases in “prestigious” journals toward research with white, U.S. college-student samples that ostensibly generalizes to all people and relegates research on the experiences of racial minorities to “specialty” journals with less readership (e.g., Asian American Journal of Psychology). Editors may ask researchers to include in their discussion section whether or not their research considers the diversity within a social group and researchers can write a paragraph in their discussion section that highlights constraints on generalizability (Simons et al., 2017).

We examined who is represented in research conscious of Asian identity in psychology journals. Our findings indicate that a large amount of research conceptualizes “Asian” as a homogeneous category, failing to provide information about ethnic or subgroup representation. When ethnicity is provided, East Asian identity is more likely to be represented than South or Southeast Asian identity. We observed similar trends in both U.S. and non-U.S.-based research and hypothesized that these trends may be due to individual- and structural-level biases that lead to the centering of East Asian identity in published research. Importantly, our goal was not to indict researchers who may have contributed to this trend in the literature; however, we do want to emphasize that psychology has fallen short when it comes not only to studying race but also to studying the diversity within racial minority groups. We hope that the considerations and recommendations we provided can assist researchers with future research to move towards a more inclusive psychological science.

  • Contributed to conception and design: ACV, JDR

  • Contributed to acquisition of data: ACV

  • Contributed to analysis and interpretation of data: ACV, JDR

  • Drafted and/or revised the article: ACV, JDR

  • Approved the submitted version for publication: ACV, JDR

We want to thank Maria Garay, Jon Jachimowicz, and Sam Sommers for their feedback on earlier drafts of this manuscript.

We do not have any funding sources to disclose.

We have no known conflict of interest to disclose.

All data files, literature search instructions, and article citations included in the literature search are available on the Open Science Framework: https://osf.io/vpq3j/?view_only=ed98253f1018475b9ae9dd82f58933e3.

1.

Note that, in some cases, this process involved converting percentages into whole numbers – therefore, there may be rounding errors.

2.

We use k to denote the number of studies and use n to denote the number of participants.

3.

Note that, in some cases, this process involved converting percentages into whole numbers – therefore, there may be rounding errors.

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