PSYC14 Notes – Chap 12: Living in Multicultural Worlds
Research that tracks migrating people across time demonstrates, perhaps more clearly than
other topics in this book, how an individual’s experiences shape their psychological
Acculturation: the process by which people migrate to and learn a culture that is different
from their original culture.
Reaching consistent conclusions on acculturation is difficult however, because acculturating
individuals have such widely varying experiences. For example, they move to new countries
for many different reasons (study abroad, fleeing as refugees, etc.), they move to
dramatically different environments (diverse or homogeneous neighbourhoods, places with
open discrimination, etc.), and they move to cultures that vary in similarity to their heritage
culture. It becomes even more complicated when we consider the different personalities,
goals, etc. that affect a person’s acculturation experience.
What Happens When People Move to a New Culture?
There is one clear issue of agreement however: moving to a new culture involves
Migrants are people who move from a Heritage Culture to a Host Culture and include those
who intend to stay temporarily, Sojourners, or those who tend to stay permanently,
A classic study was conducted by Lysgaard on the adjustment experiences of Norwegians in
the US (Fig 12.1). In the initial few months of their experience (the Honeymoon stage) they
were having an especially positive time on their visit- meeting new people, trying new
things, and being in a novel environment. While most tourists do not stick around long
enough to move past this stage, for longer visits (like the ones investigated in this study),
there is an increase in negative views toward the culture (6-18 months in). This is called the
Crisis or Culture Shock stage. The thrill of having novel experiences wears off and they now
become tiring and difficult; they realize they do not have a rich enough understanding of the
system to thrive, language skills aren’t adequate and they can’t fully participate in
conversations, and they become home sick.
Culture shock: the feeling of being anxious, helpless, irritable, and homesick that one
experience on moving to a new culture
After several months in the crisis stage, Lysgaard’s sojourners stated to adjust and began to
enjoy their experiences more. Language skills improve, they are better able to make enduring
friendships, they start to think more like the locals around them. This is the Adjustment stage
and it tends to extend over a number of years.
While this U-shaped pattern of adjustment to new cultures seems to characterize the
experience of many migrants, it does not characterize the adjustment pattern of everyone’s
Some research shows that the honeymoon stage is not present for many soujourners- the
beginning of their stay is filled with much anxiety that prevents them from feeling excited
about their new experience.
One societal feature of a host culture that seems to influence the acculturating individual’s
adjustment is the ease with which migrants can be accommodated by the host culture. In the US, there are a large group of immigrants and much ethnic diversity; in Japan, 99% of the
population are Japanese and it may be harder to adjust in such a homogeneous society.
What are some features that influence how people will adjust to their acculturation
Cultural Distance. How successful people are in the acculturation process seems to be
influenced by how much learning they need to do. Cultural distance is the difference between
two cultures in the overall ways of life. If people move to a culture that is more similar to
their heritage culture, there is less learning to do and fewer difficulties.
We can test this hypothesis by comparing people’s performance on various measures of
acculturation. One indirect measure is language performance (the easier it is for migrants to
learn the language of the host culture, the better should fare in the acculturation process).
One source of data in assessing how easily people learn the language of the host culture is the
country’s average score on the TOEFL (test of English as a first language) that is often given
to international students who wish to study in an English speaking country. As table 12.1
shows, people who grow up speaking a language that is highly similar to English perform
better (they have to do less learning if their language is more similar).
People do not have to actually leave their country to be confronted with the need to
acculturate to a new set of values. Many indigenous groups have had no choice but to adjust
to a culture imposed on them by a colonial force.
Cultural distance is a useful variable for helping us predict who will fare the best in
acculturating; however, it would seem that some people fare better than others regardless of
what culture they come from. What kinds of people have the easiest time acculturating?
Cultural Fit: the degree to which an individual’s personality is more similar to the dominant
cultural values in the host culture. The greater the cultural fit of a person with the host
culture, the easier they should acculturate to it.
This has been shown by examining the personality trait of extraversion (a general orientation
toward being outgoing and seeking stimulation from the environment) in a sample of
Malaysians and Singaporeans living in New Zealand. While it is thought that E should
facilitate communication everywhere and they should acculturate easier than introverts, it has
been found that this relationship is more complicated. While the Malaysian and Singaporean
migrants who scored high on E had greater well-being while living in New Zealand, English
speaking migrants living in Singapore who were high on E reported feeling more frustration,
health problems, etc.
o Thus, extraversion does not always facilitate acculturation
Another key individual difference to consider is the self-concept. It seems that people with
more independent self-concepts would be a better cultural fit in individualistic societies (ex:
US), compared with people with more interdependent self-concepts.
This was investigated by looking at how well student from Japan, Korea, and China did in
their acculturation to the US. It was found that the East Asian students who had a more
independent self-concept were more likely to engage in direct coping strategies to deal with
stress. These coping skills would seem to be useful for adjusting to the difficulties
encountered in the acculturation process. Moreover, the East Asians who were more
interdependent reported experiencing more stress.
o A sample of American college students (who were not acculturating) was also
included in the study. For them, there were no significant relations between
independence, interdependence, stress, and coping. Acculturation Strategies. John Berry proposed that 2 orthogonal issues are critical to the
outcome of one’s acculturation:
o Whether the person attempts to participate in the larger society of their host culture
(are they actively seeking to fit in?)
o Whether the person is striving to maintain their own heritage culture and identity as a
member of that original culture (are they actively seeking ways to preserve the
traditions of their heritage culture?)
These issues lead to distinct strategies that are thought to influence the likelihood that they
will experience stress in the acculturation process.
A person’s acculturation strategies are measured by a questionnaire. The 4 types of strategies
that a person can show are:
o Integration: attempts to fit in and fully participate in the host culture while at the same
time striving to maintain the traditions of one’s heritage culture. People using this
strategy have positive attitudes towards their host culture and heritage culture.
o Marginalization: little or no effort to participate in the host culture or to maintain the
traditions of the heritage culture. People using this strategy have negative views
towards both cultures and indeed, it is relatively rare and is thought to not be a
o Assimilation: attempts to fit in and fully participate in the host culture while making
little or no effort to maintain the traditions of one’s heritage culture.
o Separation: efforts to maintain the traditions of the heritage culture while making
little or no effort to participate in the host culture.
A variety of factors can influence which strategy a migrant will be likely to pursue:
o A person will not strive to fit into the host culture if that culture shows a good deal of
prejudice towards the person’s cultural group. People who have distinctive physical
features will likely experience more prejudice and thus are more likely to maintain
negative attitudes toward the host culture and pursue separation or marginalization
o People who are of lower SES or who are members of indigenous cultural groups are
more likely to pursue separation or marginalization strategies as well because the host
culture may not offer them much of what they desire
o Societal acceptance for diversity and multiculturalism leads migrants to adopt more
positive attitudes toward the host culture and increases the likelihood that they will
pursue integration or assimilation strategies.
The strategy a person will pursue is also affected by a particular person-situation interaction.
One personality variable, Need for Cognitive Closure (NCC), is a desire to have a definitive
answer to a question. For people high in NCC, it does not matter what answer they receive,
just that they have an answer; any firm answer is preferred over uncertainty.
It is thought that people high in NCC will adopt an acculturation strategy that is affected by
their early experiences in the host culture- as the early days are fraught with confusion and
uncertainty. They combat these negative feelings by seeking others whom they can connect
with, giving them a sense of shared experiences and increased feelings of certainty. Migrants
are either able to connect with compatriots (people from their heritage culture also living in
the new country) if they can, or if there are no compatriots in the new country they will likely
connect with the local population for social support. Those high in NCC who connect with their compatriots at the beginning will likely adopt a
separation strategy while those who connect with the local population will likely adopt an
assimilation strategy. People low in NCC will not be as affected by their initial experiences
and will not be as influenced by the social network they first encounter.
Kosic et al. tested the above predictions by examining the experiences of Croatian
immigrants to Italy 4 years after immigrating. They completed a questionnaire that measured
1) NCC, 2) who they had social relations with most in their first 3 months, and 3)
sociocultural adapatation (mastery of daily life in Italy).
o The results, shown in Fig 12.3, show that for people low in NCC, their adaptation was
not impacted by whether they first interacted with Croatians or Italians. Those high in
NCC were greatly influenced by who they first connected with: socializing first with
Croatians caused them to have a difficult time adapting (suggesting a separation
strategy) while socializing first with Italians caused them to face well in adapting
(suggesting an assimilation strategy).
As we can see, the different strategies result in different outcomes in the acculturation
process. The strategy that is thought to have the lowest degree of acculturative stress is
integration. This may be so successful because it incorporates such protective features as: a
lack of prejudice/discrimination, involvement in 2 cultural communities and access to 2
support groups, and having a flexible personality.
The least successful strategy is marginalization which involves a rejection of the dominant
society, loss of one’s original culture, and weakened social support.
The cost of assimilation is the loss of one’s heritage culture and those social support
networks, and a sense of disconnection with the past. Separation strategies are costly because
of the rejection of the host culture and those protective features, which often leads to the
individual being rejected by the host culture.
Until now, we have assumed that the adjustment migrants undergo is largely a good thing-
people acquire new skills, habits, ways of thinking, etc. that help that function effectively in
the new culture. However, not all cultural habits picked up may be inherently desirable. An
example is American eating habits. Migrants living in the US less than a year have 8%
obesity rate, migrants living in the US for 15 years have 19% obesity rate (which is close to
the American-born rate of 22%).
It was also found that Latino migrants are more likely to drink and smoke. While Japanese
have the longest life expectancy and very low rates of coronary heart disease, when they
migrate to the US they are at a much greater risk of coronary heart disease- but only if they
acculturate into the society (Japanese who do not embrace American culture do not show this
increased risk). One study also found that, among Vietnamese immigrants to New Orleans, if
they were less integrated in their new culture, they performed Better in school, were more
upwardly mobile, and committed fewer delinquent acts.
How do people who have been exposed to multiple cultural worldviews organize their
o Blending: the tendency for bicultural people to show psychological tendencies in
between those of their two cultures (ex: feeling emotions that are roughly halfway
between those common in Peru and those common in USA) o Frame-switching: the tendency for bicultural people to switch between different
cultural selves (ex: feeling and thinking like an American in an American context,
and vice versa)
Cross-cultural studies that do include a