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Acculturation, as a core anthropological concept, refers to the process by which individuals from one cultural background adopt the behaviors, attitudes, and values of another cultural group, often as a consequence of direct and continuous contact [1]. The focus is not solely on superficial alterations, like language or dietary preferences, but more so on deeper shifts in identity and worldviews.

What is Acculturation in Anthropology

The process of acculturation has been understood through a variety of theoretical models, each offering a unique lens to explore this complex phenomenon. Redfield, Linton, and Herskovits [2] proposed one of the earliest definitions, conceptualizing acculturation as changes produced when different cultural systems come into continuous firsthand contact.

Acculturation Models and Theories

Four primary theoretical approaches have been widely utilized: cultural convergence, assimilation, integration, and marginalization. The cultural convergence theory posits that acculturation leads to cultures becoming more similar over time due to increased contact and exchanges [3]. Assimilation theory suggests that individuals discard their original culture and adopt the culture of the dominant group [4]. In contrast, the integration model, often associated with Berry’s bi-dimensional model, suggests that individuals can maintain their original culture while simultaneously integrating aspects of the new culture [1]. This approach emphasizes the multidimensionality of acculturation, showing it’s possible to be both part of one’s original culture and the new culture. Lastly, marginalization theory posits that individuals may reject both their original culture and the new culture, resulting in isolation and alienation [1].

Acculturation as a Multidimensional Process

Acculturation should not be oversimplified as a linear process; rather, it’s a dynamic, multidimensional process influenced by various factors such as age, education, and length of exposure to the new culture [6]. Individuals can simultaneously exhibit different levels of acculturation in various areas of life, further emphasizing its complex nature.

Given the multidimensionality of acculturation, the degree to which individuals integrate, assimilate, marginalize, or culturally converge varies. These decisions are often affected by environmental factors, such as the acculturation policies of the host country, attitudes of the dominant group, and the degree of multiculturalism in the society [1]. It is essential to consider these contextual factors when understanding the acculturation process. For example, the individual’s acculturative stress level, psychological well-being, and sociocultural adaptation are often indicators of successful acculturation [1].

The changes resulting from acculturation can be two-fold, affecting both the individual and the society. For the individual, this may involve changes in language, behavior, and attitudes [6]. At the societal level, acculturation can lead to changes in cultural practices, institutions, and even structures, often producing a new, hybrid culture.

Overall, acculturation is an intricate process that is highly influenced by the characteristics of both the individual and the host culture, in addition to the nature of the contact between them. This dynamism calls for a thorough understanding of its multidimensionality for both theory development and practical interventions.

Acculturation Strategies

Acculturation strategies represent individuals’ or groups’ varied responses to cultural encounters. Four main strategies—assimilation, integration, separation, and marginalization—serve as the primary typology used in acculturation studies [1].


Assimilation involves the adoption of the dominant culture’s traits while discarding one’s original cultural identity. For instance, immigrant groups may choose to speak the language of their new country exclusively, relinquishing their mother tongue [8]


Integration, also known as biculturalism, involves maintaining one’s original cultural identity while also adopting aspects of the dominant culture. Many Canadian immigrants, for example, preserve their cultural heritage while also integrating into Canadian society, facilitated by the nation’s multicultural policy [9].


Separation involves maintaining one’s original cultural identity without adopting aspects of the dominant culture. This strategy is common in insular communities that prioritize preserving their traditional culture. Amish communities in the United States serve as an example, as they often live separately and follow distinct cultural practices [10]


Marginalization is characterized by rejecting both one’s original cultural identity and the dominant culture’s identity. This strategy often occurs in cases of forced displacement, where individuals may feel disconnected from both their original and host cultures [11].

In conclusion, these acculturation strategies represent different pathways of cultural adaptation. Their adoption depends on numerous factors, including individual predispositions, social support, societal pressures, and government policies.

Psychological and Social Implications of Acculturation

Acculturation influences a broad spectrum of psychological and social aspects, ranging from identity formation and psychological well-being to intergroup relations and coping with acculturative stress.

Identity Formation and Cultural Identity

Acculturation profoundly impacts an individual’s identity formation. The incorporation of new cultural elements can lead to the development of a hybrid identity, a blend of the original and new cultural identities [12]. The impact on cultural identity is determined by the acculturation strategy employed. For instance, assimilation can lead to identity loss, whereas integration promotes a bicultural identity [1].

Psychological Well-being and Mental Health

Acculturation also significantly affects psychological well-being and mental health. Studies indicate that integration is often associated with better psychological adjustment than assimilation, separation, or marginalization [7]. The loss of cultural identity through assimilation or marginalization can lead to mental health issues, including depression and anxiety [13].

Intergroup Relations and Social Cohesion

On a social level, acculturation shapes intergroup relations and social cohesion. Integration can foster mutual understanding and respect between cultural groups, promoting social cohesion [1]. Conversely, marginalization can lead to social exclusion and heightened intergroup tensions [5].

Acculturative Stress and Coping Mechanisms

Acculturation can bring about acculturative stress, arising from pressures to adapt to a new culture while potentially relinquishing aspects of the original culture [1]. Coping mechanisms vary and can include maintaining cultural traditions, seeking social support, or developing new skills to adapt to the new culture.

In summary, the psychological and social implications of acculturation underscore its pervasive influence on individual and community life. Understanding these effects is crucial in formulating policies and interventions to facilitate smoother acculturation processes.

Influences on Acculturation: Demographics, Length of Stay, Social Support, and Language

The experience and outcomes of acculturation are significantly shaped by factors such as demographic characteristics, length of stay in the new culture, social support, and language acquisition.

Demographic Factors

Demographic factors like age, gender, and socioeconomic status (SES) play a crucial role in the acculturation process [6]. Younger individuals typically acculturate more quickly than older individuals due to greater exposure and adaptability [1]. Gender can also impact acculturation experiences, with women often facing distinct challenges due to gendered cultural expectations [12]. Further, SES can influence the resources available for acculturation, with higher SES often facilitating smoother adaptation [8].

Length of Stay and Generational Differences

The length of stay and generational status in the new culture are significant predictors of acculturation. Longer residency usually leads to greater acculturation due to increased exposure to the new culture. Similarly, second and subsequent generations tend to be more acculturated than first-generation immigrants [1].

Social Support and Community Networks

Social support and community networks serve as crucial resources during the acculturation process [1]. Supportive social networks can buffer against acculturative stress, facilitate the acquisition of cultural knowledge, and provide a sense of belonging and emotional support.

Language Acquisition and Bilingualism

Language acquisition is a central component of acculturation. Mastery of the new culture’s language enhances communication, social integration, and access to resources. Bilingualism allows individuals to operate efficiently in both cultures, fostering biculturalism and often facilitating the integration strategy of acculturation [1] 

In summary, a range of factors shapes the trajectory and outcomes of the acculturation process. Understanding these influences allows for more accurate prediction and facilitation of acculturation experiences.

Cultural Change and Adaptation

Acculturation instigates a host of cultural changes and adaptations. Among the most salient are cultural syncretism, cultural preservation, cultural evolution, and the impact of global forces.

Cultural Syncretism and Hybridity

Cultural syncretism refers to the fusion of diverse cultural elements, leading to hybrid cultural forms. This blending of cultures is often a product of the integration strategy of acculturation, where individuals maintain their original culture while also adopting aspects of the host culture [1]. Hybrid cultural forms provide evidence of the dynamic and fluid nature of culture [14].

Cultural Maintenance and Preservation

Simultaneously, acculturation involves efforts at cultural maintenance and preservation. Particularly in the context of separation, groups strive to retain their original cultural practices, values, and languages against the pressures of assimilation [5]. This commitment to cultural continuity reflects the resilience of cultural systems and their importance in grounding individuals’ identities [11]

Acculturation and Cultural Evolution

Acculturation is a key engine of cultural evolution, driving change and innovation through the introduction of new cultural elements and ideas. It expands the cultural repertoire of societies and contributes to the diversity and complexity of human cultures.

Impact of Globalization and Transnationalism on Acculturation

In the era of globalization and transnationalism, acculturation is increasingly complex. Globalization, through increased interconnectivity, exposes societies to a wider range of cultures, accelerating cultural exchange and syncretism [13]. Transnationalism, the maintenance of active participation in social, economic, religious, and political spheres across national borders, influences the experience and outcomes of acculturation, allowing individuals to maintain stronger ties to their cultures of origin.

All in all, the effects of acculturation on cultural change and adaptation underscore the dynamism of human cultures. As global interconnectivity continues to rise, the processes and outcomes of acculturation will remain central to understanding cultural evolution.

Acculturation and Power Dynamics: Real-World Implications

Acculturation, entangled with power dynamics, significantly impacts societal structures and cultural identities. From colonial and postcolonial influences to cultural imperialism, resistance to dominant norms, and cultural hegemony, the influence of power dynamics on acculturation cannot be understated.

Colonialism and Postcolonial Acculturation

During colonial eras, cultural imposition was often a tool of control, with colonized people forced to adopt the cultural traits of the colonizers [14]. Postcolonially, such effects persist, exemplified in language usage across Africa, where former colonial languages like French, English, and Portuguese are prevalent, often viewed as languages of social mobility and power [15].

Acculturation and Cultural Imperialism

Cultural imperialism, another power dynamic, drives acculturation by promoting the dominance of one culture over others [16]. An example of this can be seen in the global dominance of American culture, particularly through media, fast food, and technology, which has precipitated changes in many societies worldwide.

Acculturation and Resistance to Dominant Cultural Norms

Resistance against dominant cultural norms is often a part of the acculturation process [17]. The Maori people in New Zealand, for instance, have engaged in various strategies to preserve and revitalize their language and culture in the face of English cultural dominance [18].

Acculturation and Cultural Hegemony

Acculturation is also a vehicle for cultural hegemony, the dominance of one group’s cultural norms and values over others’ [19]. This can be seen in the global spread of Western business practices and neoliberal economic ideologies, shaping economies and societies in accordance with Western norms and interests.

In conclusion, these power dynamics in acculturation show the complexity and scope of this process. Understanding these dynamics provides crucial insights into the mechanisms and consequences of cultural change and adaptation in society.


In our exploration of acculturation, it becomes evident that this complex, multidimensional process involves more than a simple dichotomy of cultural adoption or rejection. Theoretical models provide a framework for understanding cultural change and adaptation, highlighting that acculturation is not merely a process of cultural exchange, but also a dialogue of power dynamics, identity negotiation, and social implications.

Acculturation strategies, including assimilation, integration, separation, and marginalization, vary based on numerous factors such as personal preferences, societal pressures, and policy environments. Each strategy offers unique pros and cons, and their effects on individuals and communities are context-dependent, underscoring the intricacy of this sociocultural phenomenon.

The intersection of acculturation and power dynamics further elucidates the influence of historical, political, and economic factors on cultural change. From colonial and postcolonial repercussions to the effects of cultural imperialism and hegemony, power dynamics shape the course of acculturation, determining who adopts, resists, or modifies which cultural elements and to what extent.

In sum, acculturation is a multifaceted process embedded in the broader sociopolitical context, not merely a private, individual journey. As societies continue to grow more diverse due to globalization and transnationalism, understanding the nuances of acculturation becomes increasingly crucial. It allows us to foster inclusivity, manage multicultural conflicts, and appreciate the richness of our cultural mosaic. Therefore, it is necessary to continue scrutinizing, challenging, and refining our understanding of acculturation for the benefit of culturally diverse societies.


[1] Berry, J. W. (2005). Acculturation: Living successfully in two cultures. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 29(6), 697–712. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijintrel.2005.07.013

[2] Redfield, R., Linton, R., & Herskovits, M. J. (1936). Memorandum for the Study of Acculturation. American Anthropologist, 38(1), 149-152.

[3] Nakayama, T. K., & Halualani, R. T. (Eds.). (2011). The Handbook of Critical Intercultural Communication. Wiley-Blackwell.

[4] Gordon, M. M. (1964). Assimilation in American Life: The Role of Race, Religion, and National Origins. Oxford University Press.

[5] Berry, J. W. (1997). Immigration, Acculturation, and Adaptation. Applied Psychology, 46(1), 5-34.

[6] Sam, D. L., & Berry, J. W. (2010). Acculturation: When Individuals and Groups of Different Cultural Backgrounds Meet. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 5(4), 472–481.

[7]  Portes, A., & Zhou, M. (1993). The new second generation: Segmented assimilation and its variants. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 530, 74-96.

[8]  Berry, J. W., & Kalin, R. (1995). Multicultural and ethnic attitudes in Canada: An overview of the 1991 national survey. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 27(3), 301-320.

[9] Kraybill, D. B. (2001). The Riddle of Amish Culture. Johns Hopkins University Press.

[10]  Berry, J. W. (2006). Stress perspectives on acculturation. In D. L. Sam & J. W. Berry (Eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of Acculturation Psychology, 43-57. Cambridge University Press.

[11] Phinney, J. S. (2003). Ethnic identity and acculturation. In K. Chun, P. Balls Organista, & G. Marín (Eds.), Acculturation: Advances in theory, measurement, and applied research (pp. 63–81). American Psychological Association.

[12] Bhabha, H. K. (1994). The Location of Culture. Routledge.

[13] Arnett, J. J. (2002). The psychology of globalization. American Psychologist, 57(10), 774–783.

[14] Fanon, F. (1963). The Wretched of the Earth. Grove Press.

[15] Ngũgĩ, wa Thiong’o. (1986). Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature. James Currey.

[16] Tomlinson, J. (1991). Cultural Imperialism: A Critical Introduction. Johns Hopkins University Press.

[17] Kraidy, M. M. (2005). Hybridity, or the Cultural Logic of Globalization. Temple University Press.

[18] Te Huia, A. (2013). Whānau, Whānaungatanga and Contemporary Understandings of Whanau Language Revitalisation. AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous Peoples, 9(1), 42-54.

[19] Gramsci, A. (1971). Selections from the Prison Notebooks. International Publishers.

Anthropologist Vasundhra - Author and Anthroholic

Vasundhra, an anthropologist, embarks on a captivating journey to decode the enigmatic tapestry of human society. Fueled by an insatiable curiosity, she unravels the intricacies of social phenomena, immersing herself in the lived experiences of diverse cultures. Armed with an unwavering passion for understanding the very essence of our existence, Vasundhra fearlessly navigates the labyrinth of genetic and social complexities that shape our collective identity. Her recent publication unveils the story of the Ancient DNA field, illuminating the pervasive global North-South divide. With an irresistible blend of eloquence and scientific rigor, Vasundhra effortlessly captivates audiences, transporting them to the frontiers of anthropological exploration.

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