A University of Washington-led study recently tried to solve a pretty tough question - What does it mean to 'look American?'
The answer might be tied to weight. The study found that Asian Americans who look heavier are perceived to be "more American" than their thinner peers.
The researchers showed college students photos of Asian, Latino, black and white people of different weights, and then they asked them questions about the subject's nationality and other traits.
Sapna Cheryan is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Washington and co-authored the study.
She says researchers asked study participants questions about how American the person looked, how likely they are to be a native English speaker, and how likely it is that they were born in the United States. According to Cheryan, the study's results demonstrate a stereotype Americans have about themselves and their weight.
"I think that Americans have stereotypes about other Americans and it might not be necessarily that you think you're overweight, but you might have this stereotype about how Americans are... Americans do tend to be more overweight than people from other countries, especially Asian countries. I think when [participants] saw an Asian American that looked heavier, they probably [thought] this person is probably more likely to be an American and less likely to be living in Asia because of their extra weight."
Researchers went into the study assuming that weight would make a difference in if someone was perceived to be American, but expected to see it across various groups, not just Asian Americans.
"We thought that anybody that was heavier would be seen as more American just because of this general stereotype that Americans have that we're all overweight. But, we found that it was only true for Asian Americans."
Cheryan explained that participants assumed white and black subjects were American regardless of weight, and viewed Latino subjects differently than Asian Americans.
"We found that with Latinos, people did what they did with Asian Americans, and wondered if they were American or not, but they also would assume that these people were from countries that were also overweight, so that extra weight didn't really give them any clues or additional information about being from America or not."
Researchers hope the study encourages people to rethink how they judge if someone is 'American' or not.
"What we're hoping is that this study calls for expanding the way we think about whose American, and making that umbrella bigger, so that we don't start excluding people who are actually American from that umbrella," said Cheryan.
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