A friend of mine on Facebook had posted this interesting article in Harvard Magazine aboout social psychologist Professor Amy Cuddy, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, and her study on how people perceive and categorize others – in particular – in snap judgments (or how what Malcom Gladwell would pontificate in a book like Blink.)
The article goes on to describe how people perceive each other in convenient two attributes: warmth (does this person feel warm or cold to me?) and competence (how capable is someone of getting something done?) – which leads to a equivalently convenient two-by-two matrix.
One example quickly stuck out when I read the article:
Another example: a new pupil in a mathematics class is told to pair up with another student to work on a problem. Research suggests that a pupil who knows no one in the class will tend to partner with an Asian student; Asians are stereotyped as cold/competent. “People are willing to team up with them, but it’s only out of self-interest,” says Cuddy…However, there’s a far darker side to the cold/competent stereotype … ‘We respect you, there’s something you have that we like, but we kind of resent you for having it—and you’re not the majority.” Asian-Americans, career women, and black professionals also tend to be perceived in the cold/competent quadrant.
The example of the stereotype of Asian Americans being “good at math” is not really surprising and this thought “experiment” was never actually conducted. But this really got me to thinking about past discussed blogged topics, such as hitting the “bamboo ceiling (glass ceiling),” where are the Asian CEOs, along with but not limited to – Americans expect business leaders to be white.
Overall, I think Asian Americans are raised to focus on studying and testing, which leads them to a good college or university with the intention of a successful, socially acceptable and prominent profession. And when in pursuit of their career, focusing in on quantifiable, measurable and discreet skills. But often, in the pursuit of success, there is less of a focus on the “soft skills” that often lead to a successful career – working or getting along with others, teamwork, networking, and yes, kissing and covering your ass.
As I think about it more, I think Asian Americans who were born and raised in California, the West coast or where there were a lot of Asians, I think the more they “fit” into mainstream America and have more of the “soft skills.” I think this was part of the culture shock I experience as I observed Asian American professionals when I moved to the Bay Area, as well as when I first noticed Taiwanese Americans from UC Berkeley and UCLA on the Love Boat.
What would be interesting to study is if the perceptions of Asian Americans alter markedly differently in regions of the U.S. that have more Asians versus less? I’m betting that there would be difference and this “cold/competent” perception would be inversely proportional to the increased density of Asian Americans. But maybe I am wrong? I think there is already a slight backlash with the number of Asian Americans in the University of California system.