Researchers combed through the abstracts of over 6,000 studies to analyze youth ethnic-racial affect — how positive a person feels about their own race or ethnicity — in a meta-analysis published Feb. 3 in the journal Child Development. They concluded that feelings of ethnic pride and happiness in minority youths positively affect their behavior and academic success.
Deborah Rivas-Drake, a former assistant professor of education and human development who is now an associate professor at the University of Michigan, and Adriana Umana-Taylor, professor at Arizona State University, formed the Ethnic and Racial Identity in the 21st Century working group, which authored the paper, “to incorporate diverse perspectives” on ethnic and racial identity, Rivas-Drake wrote in an email to The Herald.
In two meetings, held May 2012 and January 2013, the group discussed what they knew about racial-ethnic identity research in adolescents and identified gaps in the literature, said Tiffany Yip, associate professor of psychology at Fordham University and a member of the group. The meta-analysis sought to fill these gaps.
In a meta-analysis, “you do a thorough review of all types of research on a particular topic and you analyze those studies,” Yip said. “Instead of collecting data from people, your data points are other people’s research papers.”
The working group picked 46 studies eligible for inclusion in the meta-analysis, Rivas-Drake wrote.
Single studies sometimes restrict researchers from generalizing their findings so “it is important from time to time to synthesize the findings from all available studies,” she wrote.
Marley Pierce ’13, Rivas-Drake’s research assistant for the project, double-checked that articles focused on youths, took place in the United States and discussed positive ethnic-racial affect. “My job was to go through articles a little more deeply to make sure they fit,” she said.
“Across all of these studies, (researchers) found that having a positive sense of identity and feeling proud about your ethnic-racial group led to a host of positive measures,” Yip said.
Results from the meta-analysis showed that positive ethnic-racial affect correlated with measures of high self-esteem, well-being and academic adjustment, and was negatively related to factors such as anxiety.
“We were able to synthesize results of studies across a very broad spectrum of indicators of youth development,” Rivas-Drake wrote. “We see similar benefits across this broad spectrum.”
While it may be obvious that a positive affect relates to higher self-esteem, it is less obvious that it negatively correlates with substance abuse or risky behaviors, Yip said. “I think the breadth of the outcomes is an important contribution,” she added.
The majority of studies in the meta-analysis examined middle school and high school students because most psychological theories support the idea that ethnic-racial identity begins to take shape during adolescence, Yip said.
About half the studies included black youths, but Hispanic, American Indian and Asian American and Pacific Islander youths were also represented.
But according to the meta-analysis, findings were consistent across age, gender and ethnic-racial groups.
The meta-analysis “offers one of the most highly sophisticated analyses over age and developmental levels that exist in the field on ethnic and racial identity and the phenomenon of exclusionary practices,” said Lewis Lipsitt, professor emeritus of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences, who was not involved in the study.
The findings will “really move the field forward,” said Aerika Brittian, assistant professor of educational psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who was also not involved in the study. In the future, more longitudinal research on different aspects of identity would be beneficial, she added.
The working group may consider adding a longitudinal component to future endeavors, Yip said, though such studies present logistical and financial challenges.
“I would also like to see more work done in different parts of the country. I think context is really important,” Brittian said. For example, ethnic-racial identity for minorities in Los Angeles functions differently than it does in Chicago, she added.
Pierce said though some of the findings may seem obvious, the researchers’ “statistically significant” correlations are important for the field.
As a result of this meta-analysis, there is a lot schools can do, such as providing the opportunity for students to learn about their cultural groups, Brittian said. “Educators can consider how to facilitate positive affect … in a classroom setting,” she added.
In the future, Rivas-Drake wants to examine how positive ethnic-racial identity is supported in schools and local communities, she wrote.
Lipsitt said he hopes the meta-analysis will spark further discussion.
“As long as the talk continues, inspired by good science, I think we can’t go wrong in developing a further and complete understanding on how it is growing up under conditions of group exclusion,” he said.