Oct 032011

Acculturation Model

John Berry's acculturation model

It’s a special kind of discovery to learn your personal experience has an underpinning in academic theory.

paper by Jean Phinney, Gabriel Horenczyk, Karmela Liebkind, and Paul Vedder on the connection between immigration, ethnic identity, and well-being validated my personal transformation that led to American Robotnik.

The Acculturation Model

To be more precise, it was an overview of John Berry’s acculturation model that confirmed what I’d gone through.

Berry asserts that acculturation has two dimensions: the degree of preservation of one’s heritage culture and adaptation to the host society. In selecting their strategy for acculturation, immigrants ask themselves two related questions: “Is it considered to be of value to maintain one’s cultural heritage? Is it considered to be of value to develop relationships with the larger society”

The answers to these questions yield four basic acculturation strategies (see Fig. 1). After deciding to stay in the United States, I proceeded from marginalization to assimilation to integration; it is the last state that created space for the American Robotnik project. In fact, the dynamic nature of identity seems to be missing from Berry’s acculturation model. Though the model assumes the answers to acculturation’s two defining questions may change over time, the model doesn’t explain why or how immigrants may alter their strategies. In my case, the personal journey to integration took eight years of emotional tumult and thousands of air miles.

Some Acculturation Strategies Are Better For You Than Others

There is a silver lining in all this, according to Phinney and her colleagues (one of whom, Paul Vedder, taught at University of Leiden at the same time I studied there, though we never met). Well-being, deriving from the feeling of self-esteem, positive feelings about one’s group, a sense of personal strength, and positive evaluation, derives from a strong sense of ethnic identity, which is a subjective sense of self in terms of belonging to an ethnic group or culture. In other words, “secure ethnic identity makes a positive contribution to psychological well-being”.

Integration is the most adaptive acculturation strategy and the most conducive to immigrants’ well-being (marginalization is the worst). “Positive psychological outcomes for immigrants are expected to be related to a strong identification with both their ethnic group and the larger society,” write Phinney and her co-authors. Of course, a lot of factors play into how integration happens, including, for example, gender, age at the time of immigration, generation of immigration, cultural distance from host society, personal coping strategies, social support, or the new country’s immigration policy. But the fact is, feeling good both about where you’re from and where you are promotes “healthy psychological adaptation”.

I can attest to these findings. I’d never felt better in my new country than I have since adopting the integration strategy. And, American Robotnik wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my recognizing the value of maintaining my cultural heritage while developing relationships with my new country.

There may be a theory for everything, but without real human beings on its empirical lines, every theory is just a figment of its author’s imagination.


  • Phinney, Jean S. et al., “Ethnic Identity, Immigration, and Well-Being: An Interactional Perspective”, Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 57, No3 (2001): 493-510.

  2 Responses to “Acculturating? You Have Options!”

  1. […] Above is John Berry’s bilinear model of adaptation, picture from here. […]

  2. […] Berry explica que en todas las sociedades ‘plurales’ individuos de ambas partes, la cultura dominante y la minoritaria, han de lidiar con el proceso de aculturación. La decisión sobre la manera en cómo el individuo lo afronta esta basada en dos factores: (1) integridad cultural y (2) la necesidad de contacto y/o participación. Fuente del gráfico: American Robotnik […]

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