Key Studies: Effects of acculturation on behaviour (Torres et al. 2012 and Nap et al. 2014)

Travis DixonPrejudice and Discrimination, Social and Cultural Psychology

How immigrants acculturate in their new home culture can influence their mental health, especially if they experience prejudice and discrimination.

Acculturation may refer to assimilation, but it can also refer to Berry’s model of acculturation which outlines four way in which someone may adapt to a new culture. The type of acculturation a person experiences can affect their behaviour. More specifically, it may moderate the effects of prejudice and discrimination.

Acculturation is the process of adapting and changing as a result of living in a new culture (Berry, 2002). To explain the effects of acculturation on behaviour, we can look at how different acculturation strategies can have different effects on behaviour: the way someone acculturates can influence how they think, feel and act.

Berry’s model of acculturation identifies four acculturation strategies:


This is Berry’s model of acculturation (source:

  • Assimilation: when an individual loses a sense of belonging to his or her heritage culture and completely adopts and adapts to the norms and values of their new culture.
  • Integration: the individual adapts to the new culture by adopting the cultural values and norms but they still have strong connections with their heritage culture.
  • Separation: the individual maintains their norms and values of their home culture, and rejects those of their new culture.
  • Marginalization: when an individual loses their sense of belonging to their heritage culture and does not adapt to their new culture.

Numerous studies have shown that individuals who acculturate by integrating have the best psychological outcomes and reduced acculturative stress (negative mental health outcomes that come about because of interacting with a new culture). For example, they suffer from fewer mental health problems like depression, anxiety and stress.

Integration can also protect against the negative effects of experiencing discrimination: people who adopt an acculturation strategy of integration experience less acculturative stress, depression and anxiety, whereas those who are separated or marginalized are more at risk for these types of mental health problems if they feel they have been discriminated against. This is important to know as immigrants are often the victims of prejudice and discrimination.

Key Study #1: Correlational study of Latino-Americans, integration and discrimination (Torres et al., 2012)

This study surveyed 669 Latinos from a range of countries (50% born outside of the US) who were living in the Midwest of America. They completed questionnaires to measure their acculturative stress, mental health and experiences of perceived discrimination (e.g. in school). The results showed a positive correlation between discrimination and acculturative stress, but they also found that participants who had a “higher Anglo behavioural orientation” (i.e. were more integrated) had lower levels of acculturative stress.  This is one example of how the acculturation strategy used by people adapting to a new culture can affect behaviour – in this case, integrating could moderate (e.g. reduce) the effects of discrimination on mental health.

Key Study #2: The influence of acculturation on mental health (Nap et al., 2014)

This study surveyed 5000 Moroccan, Surinamese and Turkish immigrants who had moved to the Netherlands. They were all seeking treatment in mental health facilities. One finding was that not all cultures integrated equally – Surinamese had the highest integration while Turkish participants had the least. This suggest that one’s heritage culture could affect the acculturation strategy used. The researchers also gathered data on their levels of social integration (among other factors) and correlated this with their mental health symptoms. The results showed a modest (but statistically significant) negative correlation between social integration and mental health symptoms (-0.24, p<0.0025) – this means that there was a slight trend for those who were more integrated to have less mental health issues. They also found that those who were integrated needed less future care.


The Netherlands is like many European countries that have seen an increase in immigration in recent years. This is one reason why the relationship between acculturation strategies and mental health has become a popular and important field of study. (

Critical Thinking Considerations

  • Nap et al.’s study was conducted on participants who were already seeking treatment in mental health facilities. Does this affect the generalizability of these results?
  • Torres et al.’s study focuses on Latino’s in the USA – does this affect generalizability? For example, do you think we’d expect the same results with other immigrants in other parts of the world?
  • Are there any ethical considerations associated with these studies? For example, how might participating in these studies be stressful for the participants and how could this be reduced or avoided?

Exam Tips

  • The explanation of acculturation and extremism can be used for the HL extension as it shows how globalization (e.g. immigration) may affect behaviour. Lyons-Padilla et al.’s research can also be used to show the effects of prejudice and discrimination and perhaps even origins of conflict (this will help for the human relationships option).
  • Remember to prepare one key explanation of a topic and one key study when writing SAQs. The term “assimilation” may be used in an SAQ. You could define it synonymously with acculturation (as the IB has done) or define it as one acculturation strategy (as Berry et al. have done)
Torres, L., Driscoll, M. W., & Voell, M. (2012). Discrimination, acculturation, acculturative stress, and Latino psychological distress: a moderated mediational model. Cultural diversity & ethnic minority psychology18(1), 17-25. (Link to original)
Nap, A., Loon, A. van, Peen, J., van Schaik, D. J., Beekman, A. T., & Dekker, J. J. (2015). The influence of acculturation on mental health and specialized mental healthcare for non-western migrants. International Journal of Social Psychiatry61(6), 530–538. (Link to original)