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Attentional Focus and the Dynamics of Dual Identity Integration Evidence From Asian Americans and Female Lawyers

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Attentional Focus and the Dynamics of Dual Identity Integration Evidence From Asian Americans and Female Lawyers

Abstract

Do situational cues to individuals’ social identities shift the way they look at objects? Do such shifts hinge on the structure of individuals’ self-concept? We hypothesized individuals with integrated identities would exhibit attentional biases congruent with identity cues (assimilative response), whereas those with nonintegrated identities would exhibit attentional biases incongruent with identity cues (contrastive response). Dual identity participants (Asian Americans, Study 1; female lawyers, Study 2) were exposed to identity primes and then asked to focus on central, focal objects in a stimulus display. Among participants with high identity integration, American (Study 1) or lawyer priming (Study 2) shifted attention toward focal objects (assimilative response). Among participants with low identity integration, Asian (Study 1) or female priming (Study 2) shifted attention toward focal objects (contrastive response). Dual identity integration moderates responses to identity cues in attentional focus. Implications for identity structure, object perception, and task performance are discussed.
Attentional Focus and the Dynamics of
Dual Identity Integration: Evidence From
Asian Americans and Female Lawyers
Aurelia Mok
1
and Michael W. Morris
2
Abstract
Do situational cues to individuals’ social identities shift the way they look at objects? Do such shifts hinge on the structure of
individuals’ self-concept? We hypothesized individuals with integrated identities would exhibit attentional biases congruent with
identity cues (assimilative response), whereas those with nonintegrated identities would exhibit attentional biases incongruent
with identity cues (contrastive response). Dual identity participants (Asian Americans, Study 1; female lawyers, Study 2) were
exposed to identity primes and then asked to focus on central, focal objects in a stimulus display. Among participants with high
identity integration, American (Study 1) or lawyer priming (Study 2) shifted attention toward focal objects (assimilative response).
Among participants with low identity integration, Asian (Study 1) or female priming (Study 2) shifted attention toward focal
objects (contrastive response). Dual identity integration moderates responses to identity cues in attentional focus. Implications
for identity structure, object perception, and task performance are discussed.
Keywords
identity integration, priming, culture, object perception, attentional focus
People from Western cultures tend to view objects as separate
from their context, whereas people from East Asian cultures
tend to view objects as related to their context (Doherty, Tsuji,
& Phillips, 2008; Masuda & Nisbett, 2001). These cultural dif-
ferences in attentional focus or object perception have been
associated with differences in Western and Easter n self-
construals (Kuhnen & Oyserman, 2002). Just as Westerners
construe themselves as separate and autonomous from others
(Heine, Lehman, Markus, & Kitayama, 1999), they v isually
separate objects from their context. Just as Easterners construe
themselves as interdependent with close others (Markus &
Kitayama, 1 991; Triandis, 1995), they attend to the relation-
ships between objects and their environment. Accordingly,
Westerners are better at visual tasks that demand context inde-
pendent judgments, such as judging the absolute size of objects.
Easterners are better at visual tasks that demand context-
sensitive judgments, such as judging the relative size of objects
(Kitayama, Duffy, Kawamura, & Larsen, 2003).
Besides culture, gender and occupation affect context sensi-
tivity in object perception. Females, who have a more interde-
pendent self-construal than men (Kashima & Hardie, 2000)
perform worse on tasks that involve visually separating objects
from their context (Phillips, Chapman, & Berry, 2004). Like-
wise, some occupations place less emphasis on attention to
relationships and context than others. Phillips, Chapman, and
Berry(2004) found that workers in technical fields that empha-
size attention to focal objects (e.g., IT, programming) perform
better on tasks that involve visually separating objects from
their context, compared to nontechnical workers.
Research has found that a consequence of legal tr aining is
a disproportional reliance on objective thought and a
de-emphasis on interpersonal relations in problem solving
(Daikoff, 1997). For example, female law students see them-
selves as more autonomous and independent tha n do female
students in o ther disciplines (Coplin & Williams, 1978). A
core task for lawyers is reviewing documents; lawyers are fre-
quently r equired to scrutinize written clauses to ens ure they
are not ambiguous or vulnerable to subsequent challenge
(Sturm, 1997). Su ch tasks require attending more to focal
objects and less to their context.
Attention to focal objects versus their context has implica-
tions for task performance. People who attend more to the con-
text and relationships among the objects perform better at tasks
that involve memory for the spatial location of objects (Kuhnen
& Oyserman, 2002). Applied to work settings, lawyers who
attend more to relationships and con text could be better at
1
Department of Management, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
2
Management Division, Columbia Business School, NY, USA
Corresponding Author:
Aurelia Mok, Department of Management, City University of Hong Kong, Tat
Chee Avenue, Hong Kong
Email: mok.aurelia@cityu.edu.hk
Social Psychological and
Personality Science
00(0) 1-8
ª The Author(s) 2011
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DOI: 10.1177/1948550611432769
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recalling the location of specific clauses in a document. Police
who attend more to focal objects may be more capable of track-
ing a suspect in a crowd.
In situations providing cues that make social identities sali-
ent, such as imagery, language, or symbols associated with the
identity, people often exhibit identity-congruent behaviors
(Rhee, Uleman, Lee, & Roman, 1995; Verkuyten & Poulisi,
2002; Weber & Morris, 2010). For example, Asian Americans
become more likely to describe themselves in terms of individ-
ual rights after exposure to American cues, wherea s they
become more likely to reference collective duties after expo-
sure to Asian cues (Hong, Ip, Chiu, Morris, & Menon, 2001).
These reflect assimilative responses to identity cues. Identity
cues are thought to raise the cognitive accessibility of knowl-
edge structures associated with the identity, such as norms,
increasing the likelihood that they guide behavior (Hong, Mor-
ris, Chiu, & Benet-Martinez, 2000).
However, identity cues can also elicit contrastive responses;
some studies observe that identity cues evoke a contrastive
shift in behavior away from the norms of the cued identity
(e.g., Yang & Bond, 1980). The direction of responses to iden-
tity cues—assimilation or contrast—appears to be moderated
by individual differences in dual identity structure. Individuals
can represent their two identities as interconnected and compa-
tible (high identity integration) or as divided and conflicting
(low identity integration; Benet-Martinez, Leu, Lee, & Morris,
2002). Individuals with integrated dual identities tend t o
respond assimilatively to identity cues, whereas those with
nonintegrated dual identities tend to respond contrastively. For
example, when primed with images of American versus Asian
culture, Asian Americans with integrated cultural identities
attribute causality to the individu al actor; those with noninte-
grated cultural identities attribute causality to the situation
(Benet-Martinez et al., 2002). Similarly, when queried about
their gender versus occupational identity, businesswomen with
integrated gender-occupational identities display higher inter-
personal orientation; those with nonintegrated gender-
occupational identities display lower interp ersonal orientation
(Sacharin, Lee, & Gonzalez, 2009).
It is intriguing that people with nonintegrated dual identities
respond contrastively to cues of their own identities (Benet-
Martinez et al., 2002). Studies of bicultural individuals (Mok
& Morris, 2010a, 2011b) proposed it could reflect motivation
to defend the noncued identity. For individuals with noninte-
grated or divided dual identities, they may be inclined to asso-
ciate situations that emphasize one of their identities with
excluding their other identity. Individuals with integrated or
interconnected dual identities are unlikely to associate these
situations with leaving out another identity. Contrasting against
an identity cue may be a self-protective strategy among people
with low identity integration to prevent leaving out the noncued
identity. This conceptualization might apply to other individu-
als (e.g., career women; Sacharin et al., 2009) and explain their
divergent responses to identity cues.
Growing evidence suggests that dual identity integration
moderates responses to identity cues in social perception
(Benet-Martinez et al., 2002; Mok & Morris, 2011a). Are such
identity dynamics confined to social perception biases or could
they govern perception of nonsocial objects also? While past
research indicates that attentional biases in object perception
can be shifted by situational cues (Kuhnen & Oyserman,
2002), it has not explored the interaction of identity cues and
identity structure. We propose that attentional bias to focal
objects ver sus their context is responsive to identity cues and
dual identity integration. Individuals with high identity integra-
tion should assimilate to identity cues in their attentional focus,
whereas those with low identity integration should contrast to
identity cues.
We studied the object perception of Asian Americans (Study
1) and female lawyers (Study 2) af ter identity priming. We
hypothesized divergent responses to identity primes as a func-
tion of dual identity integration. In Study 1, attentional bias to
focal objects after American (vs. Asian) priming would suggest
an assimilative response. In Study 2, attentional bias t o focal
objects after lawyer (vs. female) p riming would suggest an
assimilative response.
Study 1
We studied Asian Americans. We hypothesized that partici-
pants with integrated Asian and American identities would
attend more to focal objects after American versus Asian prim-
ing (assimilative response). Conversely, participants with non-
integrated Asian and American iden tities would attend less to
focal objects (and more to their context) after American versus
Asian priming (contrastive response).
Method
Participants
We recruited 5 5 Asian Americans from New York Cit y online
forums. To be eligible, participants were East Asian and self-
identified with both East Asian and American culture. Two
participants did not follow directions so they were dropped
from the analysis. The final analysis included 53 participants
(17 men; mean age ¼ 26.72, SD ¼ 7.77; mean years in the
United States ¼ 23.72, SD ¼ 7.01 ). On a scale of 1 (very
weak)to7(very strong), participants rated their i dentification
with East Asian (M ¼ 5.04, SD ¼ 1.24) and American culture
(M ¼ 5.15, SD ¼ 1.28). No sex differences emerged on the
independent or dependent measures so it is not considered
further.
Materials and Procedure
Participants received a weblin k with instructions to complete
the study in one sitting and in a quiet and private location. Par-
ticipants were randomly assigned to Asian or American prim-
ing in a picture evaluation task, similar to Mok and M orris
(2009). Participants read: ‘You are looking at some pictures
in magazine s. List two things that come to mind as you look
at each picture. For example, you can think about the feelings,
2 Social Psychological and Personality Science 00(0)
places, people, or memories that the picture elicits.’ Partici-
pants viewed four pictures (e.g., Asian children, fried rice in the
Asian condition; White children, mashed potatoes in the Amer-
ican condition; see Figure 1). Then they received the object
perception task.
We used the task developed by Phillips and his colleagues
(Doherty et al., 2008; Phillips et a l., 2004) previously used to
study biases in object perception as a function of cultural back-
ground and occupation. The task comprised multiple trials. In
each trial, participants viewed two arrays of circles presented
side by side . Each array featured 9 circles a rr anged in a 3
3 format. Participants were asked to focus on the center circle
in each array. Their task was to discern whether the center cir-
cle in the left or right array was larger in size. They were told to
click on the larger center circle with their mouse; the clicked
circle turned green. Then they proceeded to the next question.
The task included easy and difficult trials. In the easy trials,
the larger of the two center circles (by 2%) was surrounded by 8
circles smaller than itself. The smaller center circle in the adja-
cent array was surrounded by 8 circles larger than itself. Focal
objects appear larger (smaller) if surrounding objects are smaller
(larger), an effect referred to as the Ebbinghaus illusion. In the
easy trials, the size of the surrounding circles (or context) made
it easy for participants to make a correct response.
In the difficult trials, the two center circles differed in size
by 2%,6%,10%,14%,or18%. Unlike the easy trials, the larger
of the two center circles was surrounded by eight circles larger
than itself. The smaller center circle in the adjacent array was
surrounded by 8 circles smaller than itself. Hence, the size of
the surrounding circle s ( or c on te xt ) co ul d l ea d pa rt ic i pa nt s
to make an incorrect response. If participants attend more to
focal objects, however, they should be less affected or dis-
tracted by the size of the surrounding circles and more accu-
rate i n judging which of the two center circles is larger (see
Figure 2 for example questions).
Participant s performed two practice questions and then the
recorded session of two blocks, each with 24 trials. Whether the
larger center circle was on the left or right was counterbalanced
across trials. To minimize potential fatigue in the task, we
reduced the total number of trials by half compared to past
studies (Doherty et al., 2008), yet we did not change the propor-
tion of easy versus difficult trials. Each block had 4 easy trials
and 20 difficult trials, which were presented in a predetermined
mixed order (e.g., the easy trials did not appear in sequence).
The difficult trials were the critical trials whereas the easy trials
were fillers. Recent work showed that in a task with correct
answers, individuals with low identity integration did not exhi-
bit a contrasting response with easy, more obvious trials (Mok
& Morris, 2010b). We recorded the response time for each trial
(M ¼ 4.16 sec, SD ¼ 3.29) as an indirect measure of task effort.
Longer response times imply greater effort.
Next, we assessed the degree to which individuals integrated
their cultural identities. Participants rated on a scale of 1
(strongly disagree)to7(strongly agree), four items drawn
from Benet-Martinez and Haritatos’ (2005) research of bicul-
tural identity integration (‘‘I feel conflicted between the Amer-
ican and A sian ways of doing thin gs,’ ‘I feel like someone
moving between two cultures,’ ‘I feel caught between the
Asian and American cultures,’ and ‘I don’t feel trapped
between the Asian and American cultures’’). An identity
(A)
(B)
Mok and Morris 3
integration score was formed by reversing the first three items
and averaging them with the last item; higher scores reflect
higher identity integration (a ¼ .8 1; M ¼ 4.83, SD ¼ 1. 10).
Identity integration was uncorrelated with Asian or American
identi fication (r ¼ .14, p ¼ .32, and r ¼ .05, p ¼ .71, respec-
tively), similar to prior work (Mok & Morris, 2010b). This lack
of correlation may reflect the restriction in range to the upper
levels of identity strength; had we recruited individuals less
strongly identified with either culture, we may have observed
that identity integration was positively correlated with identity
strength (e.g., Benet-Martinez & Haritatos, 2005).
1
Lastly,
participants completed a demographic survey.
Results and Discussion
We derived a perception accuracy score by summing the num-
ber of correct responses across the difficult trials (M ¼ 11.85,
SD ¼ 8.16). Higher scores reflect attentional bias to focal
objects (lower context sensitivity). We submitted the accuracy
score to a 2 (Prime: Asian vs. American) Identity integration
(mean-centered) Generalized Linear Model (GLM), including
the interaction bet ween Prime and Identit y integration.
The interaction was significant, F(1, 49) ¼ 15.17, p < .001,
Z
p
2
¼ .24; see Figure 3A. As predicted, individuals with high
identity integration (1 SD above the mean) were more accurate
after American versus Asian priming (M ¼ 16.81 vs. M ¼ 8.57),
F(1, 49) ¼ 8.42, p <.01,Z
p
2
¼ .15, suggesting attention to focal
objects increased (assimilative response). Conversely, individu-
als with low identity integration (1 SD below the mean) were less
accurate after American versus Asian priming (M ¼ 7.83 vs.
M ¼ 15.43), F(1, 49) ¼ 7.02, p ¼ .01, Z
p
2
¼ .13, suggesting con-
text sensitivity increased (contrastive response). Controlling for
response times did not change the pattern of findings. Hence, the
different responses of high and low identity integration partici-
pants do not appear reducible to task effort.
Past research suggests that ide ntity strength can moderate
responses to identity cues. Individuals with strong identifica-
tion assimilate to identity cues; those with weak
(A)
(B)
Figure 3. Accuracy score across priming conditions for high and low
identity integration participants. A, Integration between cultural iden-
tities (Study 1). B, Integration between gender and occupational iden-
tities (Study 2). Note. High scores imply more attention to focal
objects or low context sensitivity. High and low identity integration
is plotted at 1 standard deviation (SD) above and below the mean.
(A)
(B)
Figure 2. Two example ques tions in the object perception task. In
both questions , the larger center circle (by 2%) appears in the right
array. In example (a), the size difference between the two center cir-
cles is easy to see because the larger center circle is surrounded by
small circles; these were filler trials. In example (b), the size difference
is hard to see because the larger center circle is surrounded by larger
circles than itself and the smaller center circle is surrounded by small
circles. This makes the center circle in the left array appear larger ;
these were the critic al trials. Participants with an attentional bias to
focal objects (vs. their context) should perform better in the task.
4 Social Psychological and Personality Science 00(0)
identificatio n con trast to identi ty cu es ( e.g., LeBoeuf, Shafir,
& Bayuk, 2010). To highlight the role of identity structure in
the observed responses, independent of identity strength, we
submitted the accuracy score to a GLM model that included
four predictors—prime, identity integration, Asian identifica-
tion, and American identification; all main eff ects, 2-way
interactions, 3-way interactions, and the 4-way interaction
was included. Identity integration and the identity strength
measures were mean centered. The analysis showed that the
moderating influence of identity integration on the accuracy
score did not depend on the strength of Asian or American
identification (Prime Identity Integration Asian Identifi-
cation, p ¼ .38; Prime Identity Integration American Iden-
tification, p ¼ .43). The interaction of Prime and Identity
Integration remained significant (p < .01). Th is suggests that
identity structure uniquely a ffects assimilative or contrastive
responses to identity primes beyond strength of the
identifications.
The current design casts a cautionary note about the effects
of identity cues on individuals with high and low identity inte-
gration. Without a control condition, it is difficult to assess
whether individuals with high identity integration assimilate
to cues of either of their identities, whereas those with low
identity integration contrast. Hence, we recruited a separate
group of 91 Asian Americans who were not culturally primed.
They were recruited subsequently in the same manner as the
current study and completed the perception task without iden-
tity priming. Although running a post hoc control condition
risks the possibility that participants differ from the priming
groups on key variables, the control sample did not differ from
the priming sample on identity integration.
We submitted the accuracy score to a 3 (Prime: Asian vs.
none vs. American) Identity Integration (mean-centered)
GLM. The interaction between Prime and Identity Integration
was significant, F(2, 138) ¼ 10.19, p <.001,Z
p
2
¼ .13. We com-
puted the means for the priming versus control conditions at high
and low levels of identity integration (centered at 1 SD above
and below the mean, respectively). For participants with high
identity integration, accuracy was higher in the American versus
control condition, F(1, 112) ¼ 4.23, p <.05,Z
p
2
¼ .04; accuracy
was lower in the Asian versus control condition, F(1, 112) ¼
6.07, p <.05,Z
p
2
¼ .05 (M
Americ an
¼ 17.16 vs. M
control
¼
12.91 vs. M
Asian
¼ 8.38). This suggests assimilative responses.
For participants with low identity integration, accuracy was
lower in t he American versus control condition, F (1, 115) ¼
4.09, p <.05,Z
p
2
¼ .04; accuracy was higher in the Asian
versus control condition, F(1, 115) ¼ 3.83, p ¼ .05, Z
p
2
¼ .03
(M
American
¼ 7.83 vs. M
control
¼ 11.68 vs. M
Asian
¼ 15.43). This
suggests contrastive responses. The results support our interpre-
tation that individuals with high identity integration respond
assimilatively to identity cues in object perception, whereas those
with low identity integration respond contrastively.
We found initial evidence that dual identity integration
moderates the effects of identity primes on object perception.
Study 2 sough t to replicate th is pattern by ex amining gender
and occupational identity integration.
Study 2
We studied female lawyers. We hypothesized that participants
with integrated female-lawyer identities would attend more to
focal objects after lawyer versus female priming (assim ilative
response). Conversely, participants wit h nonintegrated
female-lawyer identities would attend less to focal objects (and
more to their context) after lawyer versus female priming (con-
trastive response).
Method
Participants
Fifty-one female students at Columbia Law School were
recruited through campus fliers. Two participants were
excluded because they did not follow directions, leaving 49
participants in the final analysis (mean age ¼ 25.14, SD ¼
2.10). Participants had at least 1 year of legal e ducation
(M ¼ 2.20 years, SD ¼ .69). Participants’ ethnic background
varied (32 White and 17 Asian). To control for potential cul-
tural effects on the results (Asians are more context sensitive
than Westerners), the analysis controlled for ethnicity.
Materials and Procedure
Participants received a weblink as in Study 1. Participants were
randomly assigned to t he female or law yer prime c ondition. In
the female condition, they were asked to think about them-
selves as a woman and write 8 aspects that are descriptive
of them as a woman. In the lawyer condition, they were asked
to think about themselves as a lawyer and write 8 aspects that
are descriptive of them as a lawyer. All participants then
completed the same object perception task as in study 1.
An accuracy score for diffi cult trials was computed as in
study 1. The r esponse time for each trial, r eflecting task
effort, was 5.46 sec (SD ¼ 5.92), comparable to Study 1,
t(100) ¼ 1.39, p ¼ .17.
Next, participants rated on a scale of 1 (not at all positive)to
4(very positive) how positive they f elt about being a woman
(M ¼ 3.80, SD ¼ .41) or lawyer (M ¼ 3.53, SD ¼ .58). Parti-
cipants were also asked whether they felt their female and law-
yer sides were integrated. On a scale of 1 (strongly disagree)to
7(strongly agree), they rated four items (‘‘Succeeding as a law-
yer involves the same side of myself as succeeding as a
woman,’ ‘I feel torn between the expectations of being a
woman and the expectations of my profession,’ ‘My self-
concept seamlessly blends my professional identity with my
identity as a woman,’ and ‘I do not feel any tension between
my goals as a woman and my goals as a lawyer").
2
We formed
an identity int egration score by averaging ratings across the
four items after reverse scoring the second item; higher scores
reflect higher int egration be tween gender and occupational
identities (a ¼ .61, M ¼ 4.36, SD ¼ 1.08).
3
Identity integration
was uncorrelated with positivity toward being a woman or law-
yer (r ¼ .16, p ¼ .28 and r ¼ .13, p ¼ .39, respectively).
Mok and Morris 5
Results and Discussion
We computed a perception accuracy score by summing the
number of correct responses across the difficult trials (M ¼
19.90, SD ¼ 7.37), as in the prior study. Higher scores reflect
attentional bias to focal objects (lower context sensitivity).
We submitted the accuracy score to a 2 (Prime: female vs. law-
yer) Identity Integration (mean-centered) GLM, including
the interaction between Prime and Identity Integration. Ethni-
city was included as a covariate. Results showed the predicted
interaction of Prime and Identity Integration was significant,
F(1, 44) ¼ 8.00, p < .01, Z
p
2
¼ .15; no other effects emerged.
As displayed in Figure 3B, participants with high identity inte-
gration (1 SD above the mean) were more accurate (attentive to
focal objects) after lawyer versus female priming (assimilative
response; M ¼ 23.47 vs. M ¼ 18.28). The pattern was margin-
ally significant, F(1, 44) ¼ 3.14, p ¼ .08, Z
p
2
¼ .07. Partici-
pants with low identity integration (1 SD below the mean)
were less accurate (more context sensitive) after lawyer versus
female priming (contrastive response; M ¼ 17 .09 vs . M ¼
24.27), F(1, 44) ¼ 5.53, p < .05, Z
p
2
¼ .10.
4
Additional analysis that controlled for response time did not
change the pattern of findings, suggesting task effort does not
explain the results. Also, the moderating influence of identity
integration on the accuracy score did not depend on positivity
toward being a woman or lawyer (Prime Identity Integration
Woman-Positivity, p ¼ .62; Prime Identity Integration
Lawyer-Positivity, p ¼ .26). The interaction of Prime and Iden-
tity Integration remained significant (p < .01). These results
indicate that identity structure uniquely shapes assimilative or
contrastive responses to identity primes beyond positive views
about the identities.
5
General Discussion
Ways of looking at objects shift with identity cues and identity
integration. When primed with images of American versus
Asian culture, Asian Americans with integrated cultural identi-
ties attend more to focal objects, whereas those with noninte-
grated cultural identities attend less to focal objects (and
more to their context; Study 1). When queried about their law-
yer versus female i dentity, female la wyers with integrated
gender-occupational identities attend more to focal objects,
whereas those with nonintegrated gender-occupational identi-
ties attend less to focal objects (and more to their context;
Study 2). Evidence from the control group without identity
priming in Study 1 supports our interpretation that individuals
with high identity integration assimilate to identity cues in their
attentional focus, whereas those with low identity integration
contrast against identity cues.
Theoretical Implications
We show that identity cues and identity i nt e gr a ti on i n te ra c t
to influence perception of nonsocial, besides social stimuli
(Benet-Martinez et al., 2002). The interaction effect applies
to visual attention, besides conceptual attention
(Benet-Martinez et al., 2002). Moreover, we extend research
on dual identity integration to other identity domains. Past
studies focused on the effects of cultural identity integration
on responses to identity cues (Benet-Martinez et al., 2002).
The current research probes the e ffects of gender and occupa-
tional identity integration ( Sacharin et al., 2009). Our research
with female lawyers implies that the interplay between
identity cues and dual identity integration generalizes to dif-
ferent identity domains (e.g., female engineers, Cheng,
Sanchez-Bur ks , & Lee, 2008).
Identity integration appears to be a key predictor of diver-
gent responses to identi ty cues, as it showed effec ts beyond
identity strength (Study 1) or positi vity toward the identi ties
(Study 2). Research implies that positivity toward a social cate-
gory can be a proxy for identific ation strength (Luhtanen &
Crocker, 1992). Thus, our findings converge with evidence that
identity structure shapes responses to identity cues independent
of the strength of identifications (Mok & Morris, 2010a).
We extend research on the effects of culture, gender, and
occupation on object perception. Whereas past research implies
that context sensitivity in object perception is relatively stable
within individuals (Hedden, Ketay, Aron, Markus, & Gabrielli,
2008; Masuda & Nisbett, 2001; Phillips et al., 2004), we show
it can momentarily shift with identity cues. Moreover, the
directio n of shift—assimilation or contrast—depends on indi -
viduals’ identity structure. Our findings also show that lawyer
cues affect how female lawyers construe nonsocial objects,
besides social objects (Coplin & Williams, 1978).
Practical Implications
Focus of attention affects w ork performance. Some tasks
reward a narrow focus on objects (e.g., auditing); others reward
attention to holistic patterns (e.g., fashion design). Our findings
suggest that in Westernized workplaces, individuals with inte-
grated Western and Asian identities may be more inclined to
isolate objects from their context; those with nonintegrated
Western and Asian identities may be more attuned to relation-
ships among the objects (e.g., their description of events could
include more information about the setting). Likewise, female
lawyers with integrated gender-occupational identities may be
more effective in legal work that requires narrow attention to
objects (e.g. editing contracts); those with nonintegrated
gender-occupational identities may be more effective in recal-
ling the location of specific clauses in a document.
Directions for Future Research
More research should examine the mechanism underlying
divergent (contrastive) responses to identity primes as a func-
tion of du al identity integration. Studies of biculturals (Mok
& Morris, 2010a, 2011b) propose the contrastive response
reflects an identity-pro tection strateg y. Whereas indivi duals
with integrated/interconnected dual identities could assimilate
to identity cues without leaving behind their other identity,
6 Social Psychological and Personality Science 00(0)
individuals with nonintegrated/divided dual identities would
feel that following an identity cue excludes their other identity.
The contrastive response could reflect resisting identity cues in
order to prevent excluding the noncued identity. Future
research should test this conceptualization and with identity
integration in other domains.
Research could explore the extent to which context sensitiv-
ity in viewing nonsocial versus social objects are related. For
example, studies could examine whether the effects of identity
priming on context sensitivity in object perception (tapped by
the current perception task) mediate the effects on judging oth-
ers’ behavior in terms of situational factors. This would cast
light on the link between perceptions of nonsocial versus social
stimuli.
Conclusion
The present findings reveal the importance of studying identity
structure to gain a richer understanding of how individuals
respond to identity cues. We found that people with integrated
dual identities respond assimilatively to identity cues in object
perception, whereas people with nonintegrate d dual identities
respond contrastively. Attention to focal objects versus their
context has implications for t ask accuracy in identity-related
situations.
Acknowledgements
We thank C.Y. Chiu and Gary Li for comments on an earlier draft and
Hedan Zeng for data collection assistance.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to
the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
Funding
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the
research, authorship, and/or publication of this article:
The current research was supported by faculty research funds to
Michael Morris from Col umbia Business School and its program on
Social Intelligence.
Notes
1. We found that 84.9% and 90.6% of participants rated themselves at
or above the scale midpoint on Asian and American identification,
respectively.
2. We thank Chi-ying Cheng for help in developing the items.
3. We explored the low reliability of the identity integration score. A
factor analysis revealed that the second item loaded on a separate
factor from the rest. Initial analysis s howed t his i tem i ntera cted
with identity priming in an identical manner as the average of the
three other items, although nonsignificantly (p ¼ .11). Because this
item bears closest resemblance to validated measures of identity
integration (Benet-Martinez & Haritatos, 2005) and it did not yield
a different pattern of results, we retained this item in the scale.
4. Excluding the Asian group did not change the pattern of findings.
The interaction between prime and identity integration was signif-
icant, F(1, 28) ¼ 6.19, p < .05, Z
p
2
¼ .18.
5. Interestingly, the accura cy score for female lawyers seems overall
higher than the Asian American sample (Study 1). The explana-
tion could be culture based. Doherty, Tsuji, and Phi llips (2008)
found Westerners outperformed East Asians on the task by almost
twice the a mount. Compa risons of th e current sample (m ostly
Whites) with the Study 1 sample showed a similar pattern. While
this raises the question o f why White and Asian participants in the
present study did not differ in accuracy, these Asian participants
could have heightened attention to focal objects because of their
American legal background. Simult aneously priming a culture
and occupation that each emphasizes attention to focal objects
may enhance the attentional bias more than priming either one
independently.
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Bios
Aurelia Mok received her PhD in Management at Columbia Business
School. She is interested in how individuals socialized in multiple
cultures respond to different cultural situations in their judgment,
decision-making and behavior.
Michael W. Morris is the Chavkin-Chang Professor at Columbia
University in the Business School and the Psychology Departm ent.
He studies c ultural differences in conflict management, justice judg-
ments, and social interaction and relationship patterns. Increasingly
he researches the dy namics of ind ividuals, n egotiating dyads, a nd
teams that span multiple cultures.
8 Social Psychological and Personality Science 00(0)
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