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Acculturation affects psychological well-being

Immigrants in Canada typically face cultural, linguistic, and psychological barriers to full integration into the larger society. Canadian cross-cultural psychologist John Berry theorizes immigrants as four groups of people: the assimilated, the integrated, the separated and the marginalized. The assimilated immigrants have frequent contacts with the host society, but at the expense of giving up their own cultural heritage; the integrated maintain their cultural identity while actively seeking contacts with the larger society; the separated preserve their cultural traditions while rarely interacting with the larger society; and the marginalized neither make close contact with their ethnic culture nor interact with the host society.

Which type of immigrant is the happiest? Not surprisingly, research shows that the socially integrated fare the best in terms of psychological well-being, while the marginalized are the least happy. An important question for immigrant youth, then, is whether, when, and how they become integrated into their host society - or not. Knowing more about this acculturation process is important for immigrant youth's later life and well-being.

Berry and his colleagues in the US and Europe conducted a study on immigrant youth from 26 different cultural backgrounds and living in 13 countries, including Canada, Australia, Israel, New Zealand, and the US. They named youth's acculturation profiles as follows:

  • Ethnic Profile (the separated), characterized by high ethnic identity, high ethnic language proficiency and usage, high ethnic peer contacts, high support for family relationships.
  • National Profile (the assimilated), characterized by high national identity (host country), low ethnic identity, proficient in national language and frequent use of it, high national peer contacts, low support for family obligations.
  • Integration Profile (the integrated), characterized by relatively high involvement in both ethnic and national cultures, high on both ethnic and national identities, high national language proficiency and average ethnic language proficiency, balanced use of both languages, and peer contacts in both ethnic and national groups.
  • Diffuse Profile (a group with characteristics of the assimilated, separated and marginalized), characterized by high proficiency of and usage of the ethnic language, low ethnic identity, low proficiency in and use of national language, low national identity and national peer contacts.

Immigrant youth who had stayed in the host country for 12 years or more were twice as likely to be in the National or Integration profile compared with those who had stayed for 6 years or less. The Diffuse profile dominated among the recent arrivals. Those in the Ethnic profile often lived in their own ethnic neighborhoods.

How immigrant youth adapt is related to their acculturation profile

Immigrant boys scored better than immigrant girls with respect to psychological adaptation, as indicated by life satisfaction, self-esteem and psychological problems. The same gender difference held true for sociocultural adaptation, indicated by school adjustment and behaviour problems.

Immigrant youth in the National and Integration profiles perceived less discrimination, and immigrant youth who perceived less discrimination were also better adapted psychologically and socioculturally. The Ethnic orientation was beneficial to both types of adaptation, though not as much so as the Integration orientation.

The researchers recommend that public policies, immigrant services and parenting should help immigrant youth pursue integration for better psychological and sociocultural adaptation. They also suggest that acculturation may vary in different contexts: in more public settings where ethnic cultural practices are less tolerated, an integration approach leaning toward assimilation may be favourable, whereas in families and ethnic communities, integration leaning toward separation may be better-accepted. 

Ling Na

Bilingual Medical Writer



Berry, J. W. (2006). Mutual attitudes among immigrants and ethnocultural groups in Canada. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 30,719-734.

Berry, J. W, Phinney, J. S., Sam, D. L., & Vedder, P. (2006). Immigrant youth: Acculturation, identity, and adaptation. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 303-332.​