An outbreak of xenophobia: Perceived discrimination and anxiety in Chinese American college students before and during the COVID‐19 pandemic

Stephanie L. Haft, Qing Zhou
Published Online:
11 Jan 2021

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Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID‐19) pandemic, reports of xenophobic and racist incidents directed at Chinese Americans have escalated. The present study adds further understanding to potential psychosocial effects of the COVID‐19 pandemic by comparing self‐reported questionnaire data from two groups of Chinese students attending a public university in western United States: the group who participated in the study before the outbreak of COVID‐19 (Pre‐COVID, N = 134), and the group who participated at the beginning (during‐COVID, N = 64). The aim of the study was to: (a) compare mean differences in perceived discrimination and anxiety between the two groups, (b) test whether COVID‐19 moderated the link between perceived discrimination and anxiety, and (c) examine whether media exposure portraying Chinese individuals negatively mediated relations between COVID‐19 and discrimination. Results showed that the During‐COVID group reported higher perceived discrimination and anxiety than the Pre‐COVID group. The link between perceived discrimination and anxiety was stronger for the During‐COVID group. Mediation analyses suggested that negative Chinese media exposure partly accounted for the group difference in perceived discrimination. Results suggest that future studies on the psychosocial implications of the COVID‐19 pandemic should consider the role of discrimination in understanding the mental health of Chinese American college students.

© International Union of Psychological Science