Corresponding author Sapna Cheryan of the University of Washington in Seattle and study co-author Maya Guendelman, a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley, whose parents immigrated from Chile, suspected immigrants might use food as a way to appear more American.
The researchers surveyed Asian-American and white college students and found 68 percent of the Asian-American respondents recalled food-related insecurities around white peers while growing up, like awkwardness about using chopsticks. However, only 27 percent of white students remembered embarrassing food practices from childhood.
In another study, 55 Asian-Americans were asked to select a dish to eat from local Asian and American restaurants, but before making the selection, researchers told some participants: "You have to be an American to be in this study," as a way of threatening the participants' American identity.
The study, scheduled to be published in the June issue of Psychological Science, finds those whose American identity was threatened chose more American dishes, such as hamburgers, than Asian-American participants not asked if they were American.
The root of the problem is social pressures, not a lack self-control, Cheryan says.
"Being American is associated with being white," Cheryan said in a statement. "Americans who don't fit this image -- even if they were born here and speak English -- feel that pressure to prove that they're American."