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Stories matter: Media influence on Asian American identities and interracial relationships

Chyng-Feng Sun, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This research project has investigated how popular media images of Asian Americans affect Asian Americans' self-concepts, their views on other Asian Americans, and the perceptions of people from other racial groups. The subjects are almost all undergraduate students of from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and Boston, and they are divided into three racial groups: Asian Americans, blacks and whites. There are 538 students in the survey and 67 students in the focus group interviews (21 groups). Survey findings indicate that the respondents' general perceptions of Asian Americans across different racial groups can best be described as “model minority”: they are quiet, smart and hard-working. There is a major difference between perceptions of Asian American males and females: Asian American females are perceived as sexually appealing, but Asian American males are not. Although the survey has not demonstrated statistically significant and verified media effects, focus groups strongly suggest media influence on the respondents' perceptions of Asian Americans. The notion of media effects is expanded beyond behavior or attitude change. Media effects are evidenced when Asian American respondents reflect on childhood memories in which cartoon images of Asian stereotypes evoked shame, anger and alienation; when Asian American respondents use white beauty standards which are permeating in mass media images to judge themselves and other Asian Americans; and when respondents across racial groups use media images of Asian Americans to validate their impressions of Asian Americans in real-life. The third person effect, that media affect other people but not oneself, is strongly evidenced in the focus groups, arguably one of the first such studies done in a qualitative method. The findings of the study demonstrate strong implications for the need to teach media literacy so that students can learn to critically examine not only what the media messages are about, what they are for, and in whose interests, but also ways of changing the current media to be more open and democratic.

Subject Area

Mass media|Social psychology

Recommended Citation

Sun, Chyng-Feng, "Stories matter: Media influence on Asian American identities and interracial relationships" (2002). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3068596.