The present thesis aims to build on the literature of group processes and intergroup relations to extend our insight of how minority group members manage and negotiate their identity within social hierarchies in society. In particular, I examine three questions that are central to theory and research on minority groups: (1) How do members of minority groups manage their devalued identity? (2) How do they protect their well-being from group-based discrimination? And (3) how do they manage their difference from the majority society and negotiate their identity in the majority-dominated society?
To address the first question, I provide a new perspective by focusing on awareness of cognitive alternatives whereby minority group members realise that the alternative to the existing hierarchical social structure is possible and achievable. Chapter 2 begins the investigation of how minority group members manage their devalued identity; the studies in this chapter demonstrate that awareness of cognitive alternatives, rather than contact with majority group members, enhances self-esteem and ingroup identification among disadvantaged minority students. In the context of school segregation in China, Study 1(N = 89) indicates that self-esteem among country workers’ children (i.e., minority group members) is predicted by awareness of cognitive alternatives, but not by contact with city children. Study 2 (N = 260) experimentally manipulates cognitive alternatives, showing that self-esteem is enhanced when awareness of cognitive alternatives is high, rather than low. Consistent with Study 1, contact with city children does not predict self-esteem.
Building on, and extending, the findings of Chapter 2, Chapter 3 investigates how awareness of cognitive alternatives affects self-efficacy belief and performance on intellectual tasks. The chapter presents the findings of three studies demonstrating that considering the prospect of a better future for the group enhances self-efficacy belief and performance on a math task and an attention task in the context of school desegregation in China. In particular, both correlational (Study 1, N = 84) and experimental (Study 2, N = 157) studies converge to show that awareness of cognitive alternatives to the current status quo increases self-efficacy beliefs. Study 3 (N = 114) experimentally manipulates cognitive alternatives, showing that participants in the high cognitive alternatives condition attempt significantly more questions on math and attention tasks, and achieve significant better results on both tasks, compared to participants in the low cognitive alternatives condition.
Chapter 4 examines the second research question: how minority group members protect their well-being from group-based discrimination. We investigate the role of hopeful thinking plays in buffering against the negative impact of group-based discrimination and enhancing life satisfaction among country migrant workers in China. This chapter demonstrates that hopeful thinking can, indeed, have positive effect on life satisfaction, but the development of hopeful thinking is also constrained by perceiving group-based discrimination. In particular, Study 1 (N = 138) shows that hopeful thinking does not moderate the relationship between discrimination and life satisfaction. Instead, the negative impact of discrimination on life satisfaction is mediated through diminished hopeful thinking. Study 2 (N = 105) experimentally manipulates group-based discrimination and replicates the findings of Study 1.
Finally Chapter 5 addresses the third research question: how do minority group members manage their difference from the majority society and negotiate their identity? We examine how members of three different minority groups respond to cultural value differences between their group and the majority society. We are particularly interested in exploring how this perceived difference shapes minority groups’ acculturation strategies: separating from, or integrating into, the majority society. Study 1(N = 63) finds that perceived cultural value difference is associated with endorsement of an integration strategy among country migrant workers in China. Study 2 (N = 142) extends this finding further with Chinese immigrants in Australia, showing that this positive association between perceived difference and endorsement of integration is only for those participants who are less identified with the superordinate category (i.e., Australia). Study 3 (N = 60) experimentally manipulates perceived difference among Asian international students and replicates Study 2 findings.
Overall, the three lines of research contribute to the literature in two important ways. First, all studies point to the importance of the sociostructural context and changing intergroup dynamics when examining minority group members’ attitude and well-being. Second, the present thesis demonstrates the importance of taking a group’s time perspective into consideration when examining minority group members’ behaviour at present. These insights highlight the necessity of understanding the psychology of minority group members within the broad social structure where their lives are embedded and the intergroup dynamics play out.