Walk the streets of nearly every major world city - whether New York, Paris or Bangkok - and you will come across people from an astonishing variety of cultures.  In today's world, human migration is the norm -- whether it be migrants fleeing from conflicts, immigrants hoping for a brighter future, or simply travelers seeking exotic experiences.  Spending time in a foreign culture means coming into contact with values, attitudes, norms and expectations which may be very different from your own.  Imagine, for instance, the bewilderment of a Syrian refugee, who may have never met an openly gay person in his life, seeing a Gay Pride event in Berlin for the first time.  Acculturation is the process of change when cultures blend together, and it is a topic which is more relevant today than at any other time in human history.
Video Activity

In the film "Bend it Like Beckham", an 18-year old girl named Jess lives in London, but her family is from a conservative state in India.  Jess loves football, but her family is strongly against her taking the sport seriously.

Watch the trailer of the film below, and reflect on the following:  (if you can see the full movie, it is highly recommended!)

  • How are the norms and expectations for a young girl different in Indian and British culture?

  • If you were Jess, what would you do?  Do you think she must choose between following one culture or the other, or is there any way that she can acknowledge both?  If so, how?

What is acculturation?

In "Bend it Like Beckham", Jess and her family must find a way to reconcile the conflicting values of Indian and British culture, especially in relation to the role of women.  It is a classic story of acculturation, of what happens when different cultures mix together.  Acculturation can be defined as the process of social, psychological and cultural change that results from blending between cultures.  When different cultures come into contact, as when Indians migrate to Britain, there will be changes both in the original, native culture, as well as the newly adopted, host culture.  Indians immigrants like Jess might become exposed to British football mania and a more independent role for women, while British people might discover a love for Indian food or Bollywood films.

Acculturation can be studied at both the individual or group level.  On the group level, acculturation looks at cultural shifts that occur due to contact between different peoples, but this is largely outside the domain of Psychology.  On an individual level, however, the focus is on the processes of socialization in which foreigners become exposed to - and may adopt - the values, attitudes, norms and expectations of their new home.  Just as enculturation involves learning one's "first culture", acculturation involves learning a "second culture".  Direct tuition, participatory learning, and observational learning all play a role in acculturation, just as they do in enculturation.  Ultimately, this process may result in changes to one's beliefs, values, and daily behaviors - from something as simple as eating a sandwich instead of a curry, to something as complex as the role of women in the family.

Models of Acculturation

The original, simplest way of thinking about acculturation was a unidimensional model, in which an immigrant gradually leaves behind her heritage culture, adopting the host culture in its place.  For example, a Chinese immigrant to the United States would be expected to gradually move away from traditional Chinese values and behaviors, and move closer to those of American culture.  This is known as assimilation, and is supposed to result in immigrants fully embracing the culture of their new home.  This model can be illustrated by the diagram below:

However, this model suffers from some obvious limitations:

  • The model assumes that assimilation is the goal of acculturation.  In fact, not all immigrants may want to embrace their host culture or leave behind their original culture.

  • The model also assumes that adopting the host culture requires abandoning the heritage culture.  This may not be the case - for instance, a Turkish immigrant to Germany may begin to enjoy German bread and sausages without giving up on traditional Turkish cuisine

In response to the limitations of this unidimensional model, John Berry proposed a bidimensional model, in which there are two independent dimensions, combining to form four strategies of acculturation.  These are summarized in the table below:

  • Marginalization occurs when an immigrant in neither interested in keeping their original culture, nor interested in taking on the culture of their new home.  This can result in feelings of alienation, as the person no longer has a firm connection with either cultural background.

  • Separation occurs when an immigrant is primarily interested in maintaining their cultural background, and has no desire to integrate with the larger society.  For instance, in some of the older Chinatown districts in some American cities, some immigrants could live for decades speaking primarily Chinese, buying Chinese products from Chinese-owned businesses, and maintaining their own set of values and cultural practices

  • Assimilation is when an immigrant has little interest in keeping their own cultural heritage, and fully embraces the culture of their new home.  This was once considered the goal of acculturation, but is no longer considered the only desirable outcome. In fact, many countries with large immigrant populations (such as Canada) embrace multiculturalism, in which immigrants are encouraged to maintain their rich cultural traditions

  • Integration occurs when an immigrant wants to maintain their cultural heritage, but also wants to learn some of the values, attitudes, norms and behaviors of their new home.  This is also known as biculturalism, as the person acquires and integrates two distinct cultures.  Someone who has integrated two cultures can feel equally at home in their original, native culture as they do in their newly adopted, foreign culture.
Think Critically

Have you ever spent an extended period in a foreign country?  Or do you have a friend who was born abroad?  Write a journal in which you reflect on acculturation strategies:

  • Identify some of the differences in values, attitudes, norms and expectations between the two cultures

  • Which strategy do you feel that you (or your friend) adopted in transitioning to a new culture? Give some specific examples or anecdotes to support your answer

  • Why do you think that some people choose one strategy over another?  Which strategy do you think is the optimal one?  Give some reasons why
Acculturation Stress

For many foreigners, adjusting to a new culture can be a difficult and stressful process.  As you saw in the trailer for Bend it Like Beckham, Jess and her family experience a great deal of stress and tension in trying to find the right balance between traditional Indian values and British football mania.  Some reasons why acculturation can be so stressful include:

  • the pressure to learn a foreign language, which may be essential for finding a job or being successful in school

  • the challenge of maintaining one's language, values and belief system in a culture which may not acknowledge their worth

  • trying to find the right "balance" between the values and social behaviors of one's native culture and one's new home

  • ​feelings of being stereotyped or discriminated against as a result of one's cultural heritage

All of these stresses can add up, and can result in feelings of loneliness, isolation, and fatigue.  Acculturation stress has been linked to anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.  Supporting immigrants in the acculturation process - for instance, providing counseling and translation services - is important to ensure that they are able to cope with the many challenges they will face.
Research: Lueck & Wilson

Aim: Investigate the factors that can affect acculturation stress in Asian immigrants to America


  • The sample of this study was around 2,000 Asian-Americans.  Around half of the sample were born in Asia and had immigrated to America, while the other half were the children of immigrants.  A variety of Asian cultures were represented (including Chinese, Vietnamese, and others).  The interviewers had a similar cultural background to the participants, and could speak their native language.

  • The participants were interviewed about their acculturation experiences.  The interviews were semi-structured, meaning that all participants were asked a number of prepared, standard questions, while additional follow-up questions could also be asked later.


  • Around 70% of participants reported feelings of acculturation stress

  • Participants who were fully bilingual had the lowest rates of acculturation stress.  Being fully bilingual helped participants maintain strong ties to their Asian culture while also being able to integrate in American society.  

  • Experiences of discrimination, prejudice or stereotyping significantly increased acculturation stress

  • Participants who shared similar values with their family had lower acculturation stress, perhaps because of less family conflict over different cultural values

  • Participants who were very satisfied with their economic opportunities in American also had lower acculturation stress


  • Acculturation stress is very common amongst immigrants.  Language proficiency, family cohesion, economic opportunities, and prejudice are all factors that affect acculturation stress


  • Strengths of this study include a very large sample size, a diverse sample comprised of different cultures, and the use of interviewers who had the same cultural and language background as the participants

  • It is difficult and time-consuming to analyze such a large amount of interview data.  There is the risk of researcher bias, in which researchers only look for patterns in the data that confirm their hypotheses

  • It may be difficult to translate questions reliably from one language to another, and people from different cultures may interpret the questions differently

  • I can define acculturation, explaining how it can be studied on both an individual or a group level

  • I can explain the unidimensional model of acculturation and the bidimensional model, discussing the similarities and differences between the two models

  • I can explain the term acculturation stress, discussing some of the reasons why acculturation can be stressful

  • I can describe the Aim, Procedure, Findings, and Conclusion of Lueck & Wilson's study of acculturation stress.  I can also evaluate the study
Quiz Yourself!

1.  Which statement about acculturation is false?

(a) Acculturation is the process in which an immigrant gives up their original culture and assimilates to their new culture

(b) Acculturation is the process of second-culture learning

(c) Direct tuition, observational learning, and participatory learning are relevant for acculturation

(d) Psychologists mainly study acculturation on an individual level

​2.  According to the bi-dimensional model of acculturation, an immigrant who values their heritage culture, and has little interest in relationships with the larger society, will adopt which acculturation strategy?

(a) Marginalization

(b) Assimilation

(c) Separation

(d) Integration

3.  Fill in the blanks.  "According to the unidimensional model, the goal of acculturation is ______, while the bimendional model asserts that _________ of two cultures is also possible".

(a) integration / assimilation

(b) assimilation / integration

(c) integration / separation

(d) separation / integration

4.  What research method was used in the study carried out by Lueck & Wilson?

(a) Survey

(b) Observational study

(c) Structured interview

(d) Semi-structured interview

5.  Which was NOT one of the findings of the study carried out by Lueck & Wilson?

(a) Participants who spoke fluent English had lower acculturation stress

(b) Participants who had more financial opportunities had lower acculturation stress

(c) Participants from families which held differing values had higher acculturation stress

(d) The majority of participants experienced acculturation stress

​1 - A, 2 - C, 3 - B, 4 - D, 5 - A