The Psychological Functions of Membership in Ethnically Relevant Organizations

Project Date:
Dec 2007
Award Amount:
Project Programs:

In her 2006 Russell Sage book, To Be an Immigrant, Kay Deaux examined ethnic identification and found that it often indicates the extent to which an immigrant has become acculturated to a new country or maintains identification with the country of origin. For example, though race plays a limited role in the West Indies, it becomes more relevant to migrants once they arrive in the United States, where they are primarily identified by others as black, rather than Guyanese or Jamaican. She found that immigrants who have been in the United States longer and identify themselves as African American are subject to the stereotype threat (negative stereotypes about one’s group, which can hinder an individual’s performance) aimed at American blacks more than recent immigrants. Ethnically relevant organizations may serve to bolster ethnic identification, especially as research in social psychology shows that identification with organizations plays a key role in influencing collective action and intergroup relations. Researchers seldom investigate, however, the psychological functions ethnically relevant organizations play.


Focusing on basic conceptions of group identification, psychologist Kay Deaux of the City University of New York (CUNY) will identify how Dominican and Mexican organizations serve a psychological function for their members. Deaux will recruit 150 Dominicans and Mexicans who are members of ethnically-relevant organizations in New York and fifty college students who belong to ethnic clubs within the CUNY system. Each participant will answer a questionnaire, available in Spanish and English, created by the investigator. Using multivariate analysis of variance, the investigator will compare the role that membership plays for Dominicans and Mexicans in student and non-student organizations. She will also use multiple regression to identify what determines members’ identification with particular kinds of organizations.


Based on previous social psychological studies of group dynamics, Deaux hypothesizes that these organizations may serve immigrants’ needs for belonging, self-improvement, and bolstering confidence. She will explore whether ethnically relevant organizations do, indeed, serve these functions and determine the links between these functions and the members’ overall organizational commitment. Deaux’s research will also examine whether, beyond identification with an organization, identification with the United States has an impact on the activities immigrants encourage for their organization.


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