Portrait of Native Americans from the Cherokee, Cheyenne, Choctaw, Comanche, Iroquois, and Muscogee tribes in European attire. Photos date from 1868 to 1924.

Acculturation explains the process of cultural change and psychological change that results following meeting between cultures.[1] The effects of acculturation can be seen at multiple levels in both interacting cultures. Acculturation is a direct change of one's culture through dominance over another's culture through either military or political conquest. At the group level, acculturation often results in changes to culture, customs, and social institutions. Noticeable group level effects of acculturation often include changes in food, clothing, and language. At the individual level, differences in the way individuals acculturate have been shown to be associated not just with changes in daily behavior, but with numerous measures of psychological and physical well-being. As enculturation is used to describe the process of first-culture learning, acculturation can be thought of as second-culture learning.

The concept of acculturation has been studied scientifically since 1918.[2] As it has been approached at different times from the fields of psychology, anthropology, and sociology, numerous theories and definitions have emerged to describe elements of the acculturative process. Despite definitions and evidence that acculturation entails a two-way process of change, research and theory have primarily focused on the adjustments and adaptations made by minorities such as immigrants, refugees, and indigenous peoples in response to their contact with the dominant majority. Contemporary research has primarily focused on different strategies of acculturation and how variations in acculturation affect how well individuals adapt to their society.

Historical approaches

The earliest recorded thoughts towards acculturation can be found in Sumerian inscriptions from 2370 B.C. These inscriptions laid out rules for commerce and interaction with foreigners designed to limit acculturation and protect traditional cultural practices.[3] Plato also said that acculturation should be avoided, as he thought it would lead to social disorder. Accordingly, he proposed that no one should travel abroad until they are at least 40 years of age, and that travellers should be restricted to the ports of cities to minimize contact with native citizens.[2] Nevertheless, the history of Western civilization, and in particular the histories of Europe and the United States, are largely defined by patterns of acculturation.

One of the most notable form of acculturation is imperialism, the most common predecessor of direct change. Although these cultural changes may seem simple, the results are more complex. The process varies and and the results are more complex because it interferes with the cultural system by members of another.

J.W. Powell is credited with coining the word "acculturation" in 1880,[4] defining it as "the psychological changes induced by cross-cultural imitation". The first psychological theory of acculturation was proposed in W.I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki's 1918 study, The Polish Peasant in Europe and America. From studying Polish immigrants in Chicago, they illustrated three forms of acculturation corresponding to three personality types: Bohemian (adopting the host culture and abandoning their culture of origin), Philistine (failing to adopt the host culture but preserving their culture of origin), and creative-type (able to adapt to the host culture while preserving their culture of origin).[5] In 1936, Redfield, Linton, and Herskovits provided the first widely used definition of acculturation as:

Those phenomena which result when groups of individuals having different cultures come into continuous first-hand contact, with subsequent changes in the original cultural patterns of either or both groups...under this definition acculturation is to be distinguished from...assimilation, which is at times a phase of acculturation.

Before efforts at racial and cultural integration in the United States, the main thrust was assimilation. Borrowing extensively from Gordon and Park's work, especially Milton Gordon's 1954 book Assimilation in American Life where he outlines seven stages in the assimilative process, Young Yun Kim presents a reiteration of the 1950s era notion in her theory of cross-cultural adaptation as a multi-staged process. The theory focuses on the unitary nature of psychological and social processes and the reciprocal functional personal environment interdependence.[7] This view takes into account micro-psychological and macro-social factors into a theoretical fusion "vertical integration" of theory. While cross-cultural adaptation theory itself is a fusion of previous ideas, it is not about racial or ethnic integration but instead assimilation. And as such it is unlike the works of Bateson, Ruesch and Bateson, Watzlawick Beavin, and Jackson, and Buss and Kenrick.[7]

Kim's approach is unilinear. The sojourner must conform to the majority group culture in order to be "communicatively competent." Gudykunst and Kim (2003) [8] equate integration, adaptation and assimilation writing, "cross-cultural adaptation process involves a continuous interplay of deculturation and acculturation that brings about change in strangers in the direction of assimilation, the highest degree of adaptation theoretically conceivable" (p. 360). In biological science adaptation means the random mutation of new forms of life, not convergence on a single form or monoculture (Kramer, 2003).

The term adaptation is used by Gudykunst and Kim to mean simple conformity to the coercive power (pp. 360, 371) of what they call a single form of "mainstream culture" with its "objective" "external" reality (p. 378) -- "what is real, what is true, what is right, what is beautiful, and what is good" (p. 376). As they define reality, the newcomer's perspective is false, a delusion or "self-deception" (p. 380) and any attempt to maintain one's original false values, beliefs, ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving constitute the mental illness of "maladaptation" (p. 372). According to Gudykunst and Kim (2003) the way of "upward-forward" evolution toward functional fitness and psychological health is for the newcomer to willfully "unlearn" and "deculturize" (p. 380) herself. They propose psychotherapy as well as the abandonment of all ethnic relations and associations with ethnic ties as well as avoidance of "ethnic media" use (pp. 365–368) to help immigrants (p. 382) achieve "integrative" conformity. This is not ecological integration but simple disintegration of the newcomer until their identity is erased. According to Gudykunst and Kim (2003) the more the newcomer is disintegrated the better, even if it leads to extreme distress for the immigrant. As Gudykunst and Kim (2003) put it, "Even extreme mental illness [caused by "conformity pressure" p. 371] can be viewed as a process of a potentially positive disintegration that will be reintegrated with new material at a higher level" (p. 381).

No matter how unjust or cruel, Gudykunst and Kim (2003) argue that the host way of thinking, feeling, and behaving constitutes the "higher level" of psychic evolution and any resistance to pressure to conform, to disintegration on the part of a minority person indicates that the immigrant is communicatively incompetent, immature (p. 381), mentally ill (pp. 365, 372-373, 376), weak (p. 369), irrationally aggressive or hostile (pp. 371, 376), lacking in self-control (p. 369), cynical (p. 380), pessimistic (p. 369), closed-minded (p. 369), simple minded (pp. 382–383) and "ethnocentric" (pp. 376, 382). Evolutionary progress for the individual requires the individual to "abandon identification with the cultural patterns that have constituted who one is and what one is" (p. 377). These patterns are not just behavioral but "appropriate" ways of thinking as defined by the majority mainstream reality.

In contradistinction from Gudykunst and Kim's version of adaptive evolution, Eric M. Kramer, in his theory of Cultural Fusion (2011,[9] 2010,[10] 2000a,[11] 1997a,[10][12] 2000a,[11][13] 2011,[14] 2012[15]) maintains clear conceptual separation between assimilation, adaptation, and integration. Only assimilation involves conformity to a pre-existing form. Kramer's (2000a, 2000b, 2000c, 2003, 2009, 2011) theory of Cultural Fusion, which is based on systems theory and hermeneutics, argues that first it is impossible for a person to unlearn themselves and second that "growth" is, by definition, not a zero sum process that requires the disillusion of one form for another to come into being but rather a process of learning new languages and cultural repertoires (ways of thinking, cooking, playing, working worshiping, and so forth). One need not unlearn a language in order to learn a new one. Nor does one have to unlearn who one is in order to learn new ways of dancing, cooking, talking and so forth. Cognitive complexity involves the ability to code switch between repertoires, not a zero growth, zero-sum process as Gudykunst and Kim claim (2003, p, 383). Learning is growth, not unlearning.

Scholars in different disciplines have developed more than 100 different theories of acculturation.[2]

Conceptual models


Although numerous models of acculturation exist, the most complete models take into consideration the changes occurring at the group and individual levels of both interacting groups.[16] To understand acculturation at the group level, one must first look at the nature of both cultures before coming into contact with one another. A useful approach is Eric Kramer's[17] theory of Dimensional Accrual and Dissociation.

Kramer's theory of Dimensional Accrual and Dissociation (DAD) utilizes concepts from several scholars, most notably Jean Gebser and Lewis Mumford, to synthesize an explanation of widely observed cultural expressions and differences along a Neo-Kantian manifold of spatial and temporal variance similar to the works of Edmund Husserl, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, J.T. Fraser, Sigfried Giedion, James Gibson, Maurice Grosser, Edmund Carpenter, Edward T. Hall, Walter Ong, James Carey, and Robert Levine.

Kramer's theory emphasizes how various cultures communicate in generalized terms in idolic, symbolic, or signalic communication styles that helps explain cultural differences. No one mode of communication is inherently superior, and no final solution to intercultural conflict is suggested. Instead, Kramer puts forth three integrated theories: the theory Dimensional Accrual and Dissociation, the Cultural Fusion Theory[18] and the Cultural Churning Theory.[19]

For instance, according to Kramer's DAD theory, a statue of a god in an idolic community literally is god, and stealing it is a highly punishable offense.[20] For example, many people in India believe that statues of the god Ganesh – to take such a statue/god from its temple is more than theft, it is blasphemy. Idolic reality involves strong emotional identification. A holy relic does not simply symbolize the sacred, it is sacred. By contrast, a Christian crucifix follows a symbolic nature. A three-dimensional signalic modality is less emotional and more dissociated.

A fundamental premise in hermeneutics and semiotics, which Kramer's DAD theory accepts as true, is that identity depends on difference. So too do meaning, communication, and learning. If everyone assimilates into a monoculture that would mean that identity, meaning, and communication would cease to be.[21] Regardless of how one may judge it, the fact is that the stronger one's sense of identity, the more likely one is to care about it, to see themselves as different—the more meaningful it (personal concept) is and the world one inhabits.

Kramer refers to changes in each culture due to acculturation as co-evolution.[22] Kramer also addresses what he calls the qualities of out vectors which addresses the nature of contact.[23] Interaction potential, one aspect of entrance vector, deals with the immigrant, migrant, or refugee after already settling into a host cultural. It involves how receptive a host culture is to the newcomer, how easy is it for the newcomer to interact with and get to know indigenous folks, and vice versa.

Gudykunst and Kim

Gudykunst and Kim defined intercultural adaptation as an "upward-forward" progress of "acculturation that brings about change in strangers in the direction of assimilation, the highest degree of adaptation theoretically conceivable. It is the process by which strangers resocialized into a new culture so as to attain an increasing functional fitness...complete adaptation is a lifetime goal."[24]

Gudykunst and Kim postulated a utopian or ideal type person they call an "intercultural person" or a "universal person" with "transcultural identity".[25] They argue that this new ideal type of person and society can and should be engineered by all means available, including using the mass media and primary schools to manufacture them "by design".[26] They argue that this not only moral but will be a "special privilege"[27] for those so "trained".[28] The same social institutions should be used for the "resocialization and acculturation"[28] of unfit persons by means of the disintegration and reintegration of their psyches in line with the "conformity pressure" of the dominant mainstream culture. In this way they may achieve a higher level of "evolution",[29] "competence",[30] "operational ability",[31] "functional fit",[32] and "productivity".[33] According to Gudykunst and Kim, any resistance to conformity or any lack of enthusiasm for disintegrating and unlearning one's original self on the part of the immigrant suggests that they are "mentally ill",[34] "hostile" and irrationally "aggressive",[35] weak,[36] lacking in "self-control"[36] and "maturity",[37] "self-deceived," "unrealistic," deluded,[38] and simply "maladjusted" and failing to "perceive the world and himself correctly".[39]

They claim that in order to achieve functional fit and communication, the immigrant must "unlearn" and "deculturize"[40] themselves and avoid "ethnic communication activities".[41] Since these negative traits are defined as "personality predispositions"[41] or "adaptive predisposition",[42] they could, as Galton and Pearson proposed, be bred out of the human population. For instance, according to the DAD theory, religious identity for a predominantly idolic person, is not perceived by them as arbitrary, or even questionable. By comparison, a predominantly symbolic person may be able to convert from one religion to another, but such a change in identity has very profound emotional consequences. For a signalic person, where everything is arbitrary, changing religion is like shopping: it is a matter of personal choice and convenience. Acculturation thus varies from person to person depending on what worldview they manifest.

Fourfold models

The fourfold model categorizes acculturation strategies along two dimensions. The first dimension concerns the retention or rejection of an individual's minority or native culture (i.e. "Is it considered to be of value to maintain one's identity and characteristics?"). The second dimension concerns the adoption or rejection of the dominant group or host culture ("Is it considered to be of value to maintain relationships with the larger society?") From this, four acculturation strategies emerge.[43]

Studies suggest that individuals' respective acculturation strategy can differ between their private and public live spheres.[44] For instance, an individual may reject the values and norms of the dominant culture in his private life (separation), whereas he might adapt to the dominant culture in public parts of his life (i.e., integration or assimilation).

Predictors of acculturation strategies

The fourfold models used to describe the attitudes of immigrant groups parallel models used to describe the expectations of the larger society of how groups should acculturate.[1] In a melting pot society, in which a harmonious and homogenous culture is promoted, assimilation is the endorsed acculturation strategy. In segregationist society, in which humans are separated into racial groups in daily life, a separation acculturation strategy is endorsed. In a multiculturalist society, in which multiple cultures are accepted and appreciated, individuals are encouraged to adopt an integrationist approach to acculturation. In societies where cultural exclusion is promoted, individuals often adopt marginalization strategies of acculturation.

Attitudes of the larger society towards acculturation, and thus the range of acculturation strategies available, have not been consistent over time. For example, for most of American history, policies and attitudes have been based around established ethnic hierarchies with an expectation of one-way assimilation for European immigrants.[45] Although the notion of cultural pluralism has existed since the early 20th century, the recognition and promotion of multiculturalism did not come to prominence in America until the 1980s. Separatism can still be seen today in autonomous religious communities such as the Amish and the Hutterites. Immediate environment also impacts the availability and advantage of different acculturation strategies. As individuals immigrate to unequal segments of society, immigrants to areas low on economic and ethnic hierarchies may find efforts to assimilate leading to limited social mobility and membership to a disadvantaged community.[46]

In a broad scale study, comprising immigrants in 13 immigration-receiving countries, the experience of discrimination was negatively related to the adaptation to the national culture, whereas it was positively related to the maintenance of the immigrants' ethnic culture.[47]

It should also be noted that most individuals show variation in both their ideal and chosen acculturation strategies across different domains of their lives. For example, among immigrants, it is often easier and more desired to acculturate to their host society's attitudes towards politics and government, than it is to acculturate to new attitudes about religion, principles, and values.[48]


Individual health

Acculturation is thought to affect health by impacting levels of stress, access to health resources, and attitudes towards health. Among U.S. Latinos, higher levels of adoption of the American host culture has been associated with negative effects on health behaviors and outcomes, but positive effects on health care use and access.[49] The effects of acculturation on physical health is thought to be a major factor in the immigrant paradox, the finding that first generation immigrants tend to have better health outcomes than members of the host culture, and that these differences decrease over generations.

One prominent explanation for the negative health behaviors and outcomes (e.g. substance use, low birth weight) associated with the acculturation process is the acculturative stress theory.[50] Acculturative stress refers to the psychological, somatic, and social difficulties that may accompany acculturation processes, often manifesting in anxiety, depression and other forms of mental and physical maladaptation.[51] Stress caused by acculturation has been documented in phenomenological research on the acculturation of adolescent female Mexican immigrants.[52] This research has shown that acculturation is a "fatiguing experience requiring a constant stream of bodily energy", an "individual and familial endeavor", and involves "enduring loneliness caused by seemingly insurmountable language barriers". However, the same individuals also report "finding relief and protection in relationships" and "feeling worse and then feeling better about oneself with increased competencies" during the acculturative process.


In situations of continuous contact, cultures have exchanged and blended foods, music, dances, clothing, tools, and technologies. Cultural exchange can either occur naturally through extended contact, or more quickly though cultural appropriation or cultural imperialism.

Cultural appropriation is the adoption of some specific elements of one culture by members a different cultural group. It can include the introduction of forms of dress or personal adornment, music and art, religion, language, or behavior.[53] These elements are typically imported into the existing culture, and may have wildly different meanings or lack the subtleties of their original cultural context. Because of this, cultural appropriation is sometimes viewed negatively, and has sometimes been called "cultural theft."

Cultural imperialism is the practice of promoting the culture or language of one nation in another, usually occurring in situations in which assimilation is the dominant strategy of acculturation.[54] Cultural imperialism can take the form of an active, formal policy or a general attitude regarding cultural superiority.


In some instances, acculturation results in the adoption of another country's language, which is then modified over time to become a new, distinct, language. For example, Hanzi, the written language of Chinese language, has been adapted and modified by other nearby cultures, including: Japan (as kanji), Korea (as hanja), and Vietnam (as hán tự). Another common effect of acculturation on language is the formation of pidgin languages. Pidgin is a mixed language that has developed to help communication between members of different cultures in contact, usually occurring in situations of trade or colonialism.[55] For example, Pidgin English is a simplified form of English mixed with some of the language of another culture.


Food habits and food consumption are affected by acculturation on different levels. Research indicated that food habits are discreet and practiced privately, and change occurs slowly. Consumption of new food items is affected by the availability of native ingredients, convenience and cost; therefore, an immediate change is likely to occur.[56]

Sex norms

In the United States, ethnic and racial group variations in sexual behavior exist, in part, from differences in environment, associated norms, cultural norms, cultural values, and opportunity structures. For example, when compared to other ethnic minorities in the United States, Asian American immigrant youth are the least likely to have had sexual intercourse. When compared to youth of the same age in Asia, however, the rate of having had sexual intercourse among Asian American youth is a much higher percentage. Because Americans have more liberal sexual norms than their counterparts in Asian countries, it is natural that Asian American adolescents will gradually become more accepting of American sexual norms with more acculturation. Also with American students reading more of Kamasutra than Indians they will gradually start defying their countries sexual norms to Indian norms.[57]

Controversies and debate


Some anthropologists make a semantic distinction between group and individual levels of acculturation. In these instances, the term transculturation is used to define individual foreign-origin acculturation, and occurs on a smaller scale with less visible impact. Scholars making this distinction use the term "acculturation" only to address large-scale cultural transactions. Acculturation, then, is the process by which migrants gain new information and insight about the normals and values of the culture and adapt their behaviors to the host culture.[58]

Recommended models

Most research seems to indicate that the integrationist model of acculturation will lead to the most favorable psychological outcomes[59] and marginalization to the least favorable.[47] A meta-analysis of the acculturation literature, however, found these results to be unclear.[2] Recognizing that acculturation was measured inconsistently among these studies, a later meta-analysis of 40 studies showed that integration was indeed found to have a "significant, weak and positive relationship with psychological and sociocultural adjustment".[60] Factors such as how different the two interacting cultures are, and how easily individuals can integrate these two cultures (bicultural identity integration) may partially explain why general statements about approaches to acculturation are not sufficient in predicting successful adaptation. Moreover, a study has shed doubt on marginalization necessarily being a maladaptive acculturation strategy.[61] The study showed that alternative cultures spheres, beside those traditionally considered in acculturation research, can offset the negative effects of marginalization on psychological outcomes.

Typological approach

Several theorists have stated that the fourfold models of acculturation are too simplistic to have predictive validity.[62] Some common criticisms of such models include the fact that individuals don't often fall neatly into any of the four categories, and that there is very little evidence for the applied existence of the marginalization acculturation strategy.[61][63] In addition, the bi-directionality of acculturation means that whenever two groups are engaged in cultural exchange, there are 16 permutations of acculturation strategies possible (e.g. an integrationist individual within an assimilationist host culture).[2] The Interactive Acculturation Model represents one proposed alternative to the typological approach by attempting to explain the acculturation process within a framework of state policies and the dynamic interplay of host community and immigrant acculturation orientations.

See also


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