The Implicit and Explicit Sense of Belonging in Migrant Children in China

By Geng, Liuna; Zhou, Wenjun et al. | Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, August 10, 2012 | Go to article overview

The Implicit and Explicit Sense of Belonging in Migrant Children in China


Geng, Liuna, Zhou, Wenjun, Hu, Yiqing, Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal


We investigated whether Chinese children who have migrated from the countryside to the city have a sense of belonging to their hometown or to their current place of residence. We measured both their explicit and implicit sense of belonging using the Sense of Belonging Questionnaire (SBQ; Sun, 2007) and the Brief Implicit Association Test (BIAT, Sriram & Greenwald, 2009). We found that there was a discrepancy between these children's explicit and implicit cognition: they had an explicit sense of belonging to the cities in which they lived and an implicit sense of belonging to their previous homes in the countryside. Our findings may help migrant children adapt to city life by leading them to explore their implicit ability to differentiate virtual life on television from real life.

Keywords: implicit sense of belonging, explicit sense of belonging, migrant children, China.

Rapid economic development in China since die mid-1980s has resulted in considerable rural to urban migration, as migrants have sought better job opportunities in die cities. A commonly cited figure puts the number of rural migrants residing in cities in 2009 at 149 million (National Bureau of Statistics, 2010). Such migrants are often accompanied by their children. Because of their marginalized status in urban China these children have been attracting increasing attention from sociologists, economists, psychologists, and others interested in their welfare. The types of marginalization they experience include poor housing conditions, litde access to public school systems, and discrimination by local urban residents (Wong, Li, & Song, 2007). All of these conditions are, to some extent, responsible for the poor health and psychological problems of such children (Magwaza, 1992).

Although the existing literature abounds with descriptions of migrant children's psychological problems, few researchers have attempted to explore other psychological aspects of this special group such as the sense of belonging. We investigated whether migrant children have a greater sense of belonging to their birthplace (the countryside) or to the place in which they currently live (the city). Here, sense of belonging is an important psychological construct for migrant children. Hagerty, Williams, Coyne, and Early (1996) defined sense of belonging as the experience of personal involvement in a system or environment so that persons feel themselves to be an integral part of that system or environment. According to Nesdale, Rooney, and Smith (1997), sense of belonging is closely connected with migrant ethnic identity and self-esteem and can ultimately influence migrant children's psychological well-being. Hagerty et al. have also posited that a sense of belonging is closely related to indicators of both social and psychological functioning. In addition, Hurtado and Carter (1997) recommended attaching greater importance to migrant students' sense of belonging in their school life.

We employed different approaches to measure two aspects of the sense of belonging - the explicit aspect and the implicit aspect. Prior studies have typically focused on explicit sense of belonging. However, we believe that implicit sense of belonging deserves more attention, because in many cases it is the implicit rather than the explicit sense of belonging that plays a decisive role in behavior (Greenwald & Banaji, 1995). According to Greenwald and Banaji, people adopt dual attitudes toward a certain object: explicit and implicit. Furthermore, the explicit attitude cannot usually represent the authentic thoughts of an individual because it tends to be influenced by interfering factors (such as social pressure). On the contrary, the implicit attitude more commonly determines the individual's practical actions because it is firmly held by an individual and immune to external interference, and thus more stable. This is why we examined both implicit and explicit sense of belonging in this study. …

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