Ethnic identity gives teens daily happiness boost

October 20, 2006

Ethnic pride can help teenagers maintain happiness when faced with stress, according to a new study by a Wake Forest University psychologist published in the October issue of Child Development.

Adolescents with positive feelings toward their ethnic group say they are happier on a daily basis than those who have a more negative attitude about their ethnic identity, said Lisa Kiang, assistant professor of psychology at Wake Forest and lead author of the study.

The study, involving 415 ninth-graders from Chinese and Mexican backgrounds, shows the protective effects of ethnic identity on daily psychological well-being, Kiang said.

Each participant completed a brief questionnaire regarding their feelings about their ethnic identity. Then, for two weeks, the students filled out a three-page checklist at the end of each day indicating the kinds of stresses they experienced that day. For example, the students would mark whether they had a lot of schoolwork to complete or if they had a lot of demands made by their family.

Finally, the students were asked to rate their daily emotional states on a scale from zero to four, including how happy they felt that day and how nervous they felt that day.

Those with higher ethnic regard rated their daily happiness level higher.

"Adolescents with a high ethnic regard maintained a generally positive and happy attitude in the face of daily stressors and despite their anxious feelings," Kiang said. "So, having positive feelings about one's ethnic group appeared to provide an extra boost of positivity in individuals' daily lives."Although the experience of more daily stressors predicted less daily happiness in individuals with a low to moderate ethnic regard, individuals with a high ethnic regard were protected from these negative effects, said Kiang, who teaches courses in developmental psychology.

The researchers focused on adolescents because that is when identity issues are at the forefront. Kiang said the positive effects of ethnic pride found in this study could suggest that parents and society in general should encourage strong ethnic identity in families.
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Wake Forest University

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