James Madison University

Faculty Member and Alum Win Award for Best Article in 2015

Posted:  September 8, 2016

The Asian American Journal of Psychology presented the award for Best Journal Article of 2015 to Dr. Matthew R. Lee and his former student Ms. Christina J. Thai (2013) at the Annual Convention of the Asian American Psychological Association. Their paper titled, “Asian American phenotypicalilty and experiences of psychological distress:  More than meets the eyes” covers a three year research project that examined the relationship between Asian Americans’ appearance and experiences of racial microaggressions.  The authors explored this topic because there is tremendous diversity of Asian Americans in terms of ethnic background, and that there may be specific phenotypic and appearance-based characteristics that are associated with different kinds of racialized experiences.  After careful analysis, they discovered that darker skin tone as well as whether or not a participant wore glasses correlated with participants’ reported distress levels. 

This project’s origin lies in a pilot study that Dr. Lee conducted in graduate school using a method called multidimensional scaling to understand what physical features people use when judging how “Asian” a person looks.  That project used photographs found on the internet.  At JMU, Dr. Lee collaborated with his coauthor Christina Thai and several other students in the Cultural and Racial Diversity Studies (CARDS) lab to photograph Asian American students’ faces and collect data on their own experiences. 

Data collection from Asian American students (only 4% of the JMU undergraduate student body) was quite difficult, even with classroom credit or financial incentives advertised to Asian American student groups.  One of the most challenging aspects of this study was creating a codebook to quantify different phenotypic characteristics found in Asian Americans’ faces.  The authors spent hours meeting and training lab members to characterize face shape, jawlines, and what actually counted as “long hair.” 

Dr. Lee and Ms. Thai were happily surprised by the positive reception this paper has had in the research community.  They hope the paper generates discussions for future researchers to consider the impact of phenotype and appearance on other race-related outcomes.

For more information, visit the CARDS Lab Facebook page.