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Define Acculturation

Acculturation is a process through which people from one culture adopts another culture's practices and values while still retaining their own distinct culture. This process is discussed regarding a minority culture adopting elements of the majority culture.

Acculturation is a two-way process, so the majority culture often adopts elements of minority cultures with which they come into contact. The process plays between groups where neither a majority nor a minority is necessary.

It can happen at both group and individual levels and can occur due to in-person contact or contact through art literature, or media. Acculturation is not the same as the process of assimilation, though some people use the words interchangeably. Assimilation can be an eventual outcome of the acculturation process. But this process has other outcomes, such as rejection integration marginalization, and transmutation.

When the process is at its most extreme, assimilation occurs wherein the original culture is wholly abandoned and the new culture adopted in its place.


  • Acculturation within the social sciences was by John Wesley Powell in a report for the U.S. Bureau of Ethnology in 1880. Powell later defined the term as the psychological changes that occur within a person due to cultural exchange resulting from extended contact between different cultures. Powell observed that, while they exchange cultural elements, each retains its own unique culture.
  • Later, in the early 20th century, acculturation became a focus of American sociologists who used ethnography to study immigrants' lives and the extent to which they integrated into U.S. society.
  • I Thomas and Florian Znaniecki examined this process with Polish immigrants in Chicago in their 1918 study "The Polish Peasant in Europe and America".
  • Robert E. Park and Ernest W. Burgess focused their research and theories on the outcome of this process known as assimilation.

Acculturation at Group and Individual Levels

1. At the group level: Acculturation entails the widespread adoption of the values, practices, forms of art, and technologies of another culture. These can range from adopting ideas, beliefs, and ideology to the large-scale inclusion of cuisines' foods and styles from other cultures.

For example, Mexican, Chinese, and Indian food in the U.S. This includes the simultaneous adoption of mainstream American foods and meals by immigrant populations.

Acculturation at the group level can also entail the cultural exchange of clothing and fashions, and language. It happens when immigrant groups learn and adopt the new home's language or when certain phrases and words from a foreign language make their way into common usage. Sometimes, leaders within a culture decide to adopt the technologies or practices for efficiency and progress.

2. At the individual level: Acculturation may involve all the same things that occur at the group level, but the motives and circumstances may differ.

For example, people who travel to foreign lands where the culture differs from their own, and who spend more time there, are likely to engage in the process of acculturation, whether intentionally or not, to learn and experience new things, enjoy their stay, and reduce the social friction that can arise from cultural differences.

Acculturation Strategies

Acculturation can take different forms and have different outcomes, depending on the strategy adopted by the people or groups involved in exchanging culture.

The strategy used will be determined by whether the person or group believes it is important to maintain their original culture and how important it is to establish and maintain relationships with the greater community and society whose culture differs. The five different strategies and outcomes of acculturation are given below.

Define Acculturation

1. Assimilation

This strategy is used when no importance is placed on maintaining the original culture, and great importance is put on fitting in and developing relationships with the new culture.

The outcome is that the person or group is culturally interchangeable from the culture they have assimilated. This type of acculturation is likely to occur in societies considered "melting pots" into which new members are absorbed.

2. Separation

This strategy is used when no importance is placed on embracing the new culture, and high importance is placed on maintaining the original culture.

The outcome is that the original culture is maintained while the new culture is rejected.

This type of acculturation is likely to occur in culturally or racially segregated societies.

3. Integration

This strategy is used when maintaining the original culture and adapting to the new one are considered important.

It is a common strategy of acculturation and can be observed among many immigrant communities and those with a high proportion of ethnic or racial minorities.

Those who use this strategy might be considered bicultural and may be known to code-switch when moving between different cultural groups.

4. Marginalization

This strategy is used by those who place no importance on either maintaining their original culture or adopting the new one.

The result is that the person or group is marginalized, pushed aside, overlooked, and forgotten by the rest of society.

It can occur in societies where cultural exclusion is practiced, making it difficult or unappealing for a culturally different person to integrate.

5. Transmutation

This strategy is used by those who place importance on maintaining their original culture and adopting the new culture. Rather than integrating two different cultures into their daily lives, those who create a third culture.

Acculturative Stress

The large flux of migrants worldwide has sparked scholarly interest in acculturation and how it can affect health by altering stress levels, access to health resources, and attitudes towards health.

The effects of acculturation on physical health are thought to be a major factor in the immigrant paradox, which argues that first-generation immigrants tend to have better health outcomes than non-immigrants. Although this term has been popularized, most academic literature supports the opposite conclusion, or that immigrants have poorer health outcomes than their host culture counterparts.

One prominent explanation for the negative health behaviors and outcomes associated with the acculturation process is the acculturative stress theory.

Acculturative stress refers to the stress response of immigrants to their experiences of acculturation. Stressors can include but are not limited to the pressures of learning a new language, maintaining one's native language, balancing differing cultural values, and brokering between native and host differences in acceptable social behaviors.

Acculturative stress can manifest in many ways, including but not limited to anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and other mental and physical problems. Stress caused by acculturation has been documented in phenomenological research on the acculturation of many immigrants.

One important characteristic for the risk for acculturative stress is the degree of willingness, or migration status, which can differ if one enters a country as a voluntary immigrant, refugee, asylum seeker, or sojourner. According to several studies, voluntary migrants experience roughly 50% less acculturative stress than refugees, making this an important distinction. According to Schwartz (2010), there are four main categories of migrants:

  1. Voluntary immigrants:Those that leave their country of origin to find employment, economic opportunity, advanced education, marriage, or to reunite with family members that have already immigrated.
  2. Refugees:Those who have been involuntarily displaced by persecution, war, or natural disasters.
  3. Asylum seekers:Those who willingly leave their native country to flee persecution or violence.
  4. Sojourners:Those who relocate to a new country on a time-limited basis and for a specific purpose. It is important to note that this group fully intends to return to their native country.

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