Ethnic-racial typicality and its relation to ethnic identity and psychological functioning

Lauren L. Mitchell, Ummul Kiram Kathawalla, Alex A. Ajayi, Jillian Fish, Sarah C. Nelson, Lovey H.M. Peissig, Moin Syed

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Objectives: Ethnic identity development is considered a central task of adolescence and emerging adulthood for ethnic minority individuals. Although the process of developing a coherent ethnic identity has received attention from researchers, there has been little work done to elucidate the content of ethnic identity. This study uses an inductive mixed-methods approach to address 1 aspect of ethnic identity content: typicality, or the degree of perceived similarity individuals feel to their ethnic-racial group. Method: Participants included 974 college students at 3 universities-66% women, average age 20.4 years, 5% Black, 30% Asian, 10% Latinx, 40% White, 11% Multiracial, 1% American Indian, and 4% Other race- ethnicity. Thematic analysis was used to code qualitative categories on what makes individuals typical of and atypical of their ethnic group. Codes were used to quantitatively assess relations between aspects of typicality, ethnic identity, and mental health. Results: Findings suggest that individuals judged their typicality and atypicality to their ethnic group by focusing on skin color, hair, facial features; values related to family, achievement, and religion-spirituality; and behaviors related to arts-media, sports, spending time with others, and food. Additionally, findings demonstrated that most individuals feel typical of their ethnic group and, of importance, that level of perceived typicality was inversely related to measures of ethnic identity and well-being. Finally, participants differed in their feeling of being typical by ethnic-racial group identifications. Conclusions: Ethnic-racial typicality provides valuable information about ethnic identity content and is related to important mental health outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)400-413
Number of pages14
JournalCultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2018


  • Ethnic identity
  • Racial prototypes
  • Typicality


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