Identity, Perceived Discrimination, and Psychological Well-Being in Sikh Americans

Gurleen Kaur Saini, Pace University


Post 9/11, Sikh Americans became particularly susceptible to discrimination due to often being misidentified as Arab American or Muslim, and subsequently assumed by some to be associated with terrorism. Research has demonstrated that discrimination experienced by people of color can have a variety of negative effects on their physical and mental health. However, the discrimination experiences of Sikh Americans have not yet been captured utilizing a quantitative method in the psychology literature. The present study conceptualized religious identity as being comprised of both a psychological dimension (i.e., in-group ties, in-group affect, and centrality) and behavioral aspect (i.e., engaging in Sikh religious practices). The relationships between religious identity (both psychological and behavioral), perceived discrimination, and psychological well-being (specifically, life satisfaction and resilience) were examined using a quantitative method in a sample of 228 Sikh American adults who self-identified as South Asian and Sikh. In addition, this study investigated whether religious identity moderated the effects of perceived discrimination on psychological well-being. Participants completed an online survey comprised of the Lifetime Exposure scale of the Perceived Ethnic Discrimination Scale—Community Version, a multi-dimensional measure of social identity, items measuring the frequency in which Sikh principles and practices were followed, the Satisfaction with Life Scale, the Brief Resilience Scale, and a demographic questionnaire. Results revealed that individuals who had a stronger psychological identification as Sikh reported significantly higher satisfaction with their lives (p = .000). The behavioral aspect of Sikh identity was a marginally significant predictor of both life satisfaction (p = .055) and resilience (p = .091). Higher perceived discrimination scores significantly predicted lower life satisfaction scores (p = .004). The behavioral aspect of Sikh identity and perceived discrimination had a significant, positive relationship ( p = .003). There were no moderating effects found for either the psychological or behavioral dimensions of religious identity on the relationship between perceived discrimination and psychological well-being. Given the underrepresentation of Sikh Americans in the psychology literature, this study shed some light on this population's discrimination experiences and their identity. The major findings of this study suggest that Sikh Americans with a stronger behavioral identity experience or are more aware of discrimination; individuals who reported more discrimination also reported lower life satisfaction. However, individuals with a stronger psychological identity (e.g., sense of belonging and similarity with other Sikhs, positive feelings about being Sikh) reported having higher life satisfaction. Given that Sikh Americans are particularly vulnerable to discrimination, it is important for practitioners to develop an awareness of the complexity of the Sikh identity, the unique discrimination experiences they face, and identify factors such as strong psychological identity that may minimize the negative effects of discrimination.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Saini, Gurleen Kaur, "Identity, Perceived Discrimination, and Psychological Well-Being in Sikh Americans" (2014). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI3581248.



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