In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Acculturation Processes and Communication

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Acculturation Strategies and Communication
  • Anxiety/Uncertainty Management (AUM) Theory
  • Communication Theory of Identity
  • Cultural Fusion Theory
  • Communication Accommodation Theory (CAT)

Communication Acculturation Processes and Communication
Chia-Fang (Sandy) Hsu
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 July 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 July 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0261


Acculturation processes and communication is a research area studying how communication changes when two or more cultures meet. Much research has focused on how sojourners or immigrants adapt their communication to meet the demands of a new cultural environment, while some scholars are interested in how the host culture or people change as a result of immigrants’ communication and culture. Communication broadly refers to attitudes, feelings, and behaviors associated with message exchanges in interpersonal interaction and the media. Historically, anthropologists have been studying acculturation among immigrants since the 1930s. Lysgaard and Oberg developed the U-curve model of cultural adaptation that moves from a honeymoon period into culture shock and onto adjustment, while Gullahorn and Gullahorn proposed the W-curve model linking the phenomenon of initial entry culture shock with reverse culture shock at the reentry into the home country. Communication scholar Young Yun Kim started using a communication approach to study acculturation and developed an interactive theory of communication acculturation in the 1970s. Since then, several theories have been developed to examine the role of communication in acculturation processes. Overall, research findings have indicated that longer lengths of stay in the host culture, social contact with the host people, host language competence, host media use, identification with the host culture, and social support from the host people all help sojourners or immigrants improve their attitudes and skills in interaction with the host people and satisfaction living in the host culture. Several factors have also been found to mediate the relationships between acculturation and communication, including uncertainty reduction, intergroup anxiety, intercultural communication apprehension, and personal-enacted and personal-relational identity gaps.

General Overviews

This article briefly reviews major theories explaining acculturation processes and communication in the chronological order of each advancement. The theoretical framework of acculturation strategies in Berry 1997—integration, assimilation, separation, and marginalization—has been used widely to explain communication adaptation among sojourners and immigrants. Kim 2001 further advances previous research works into an integrative theory of communication and cross-cultural adaptation, emphasizing that the stress-adaptation-growth cycle leads to host communication competence. Gudykunst 2005 refines the anxiety/uncertainty management (AUM) theory of strangers’ intercultural adjustment, which was originally expanded from the theory of uncertainty reduction (Berger and Calabrese 1975) and intergroup anxiety (Stephan and Stephan 1985). Later, Jung, et al. 2007 applied the communication theory of identity to explain the acculturation processes of international students and Korean immigrants in the United States. Additionally, Croucher and Kramer 2017 developed the cultural fusion theory, positing that sojourners/immigrants and host people create a fused intercultural identity by maintaining their original culture and fusing various aspects of each other’s culture. Finally, Zhang and Giles 2018 compares the communication accommodation theory (CAT) with prior models of cultural adaptation.

  • Berger, Charles R., and Richard J. Calabrese. 1975. Some explorations in initial interaction and beyond: Toward a developmental theory of interpersonal communication. Human Communication Research 1.2: 99–112.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2958.1975.tb00258.x

    This paper provides a theoretical perspective for explaining the initial phase of interpersonal interaction. It also discusses the problems for extending the theory beyond the initial interaction.

  • Berry, John W. 1997. Immigration, acculturation, and adaptation. Applied Psychology: An International Review 46.1: 5–68.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1464-0597.1997.tb01087.x

    This article outlines a conceptual framework for investigating acculturation and adaptation and presents some empirical findings and conclusions. The framework is applied to public policy and programs with a consideration of the social and psychological costs and benefits of adopting a pluralist and integrationist orientation to these issues.

  • Croucher, Stephen M., and Eric Kramer. 2017. Cultural fusion theory: An alternative to acculturation. Journal of International and Intercultural Communication 10.2: 97–114.

    DOI: 10.1080/17513057.2016.1229498

    This article presents a theoretical framework for cultural fusion theory. This theory describes how newcomers acculturate into the dominant culture and maintain aspects of their culture while, simultaneously, the host culture fuses aspects of the newcomer’s culture into the dominant culture to create a fused intercultural identity.

  • Gudykunst, William B. 2005. An anxiety/uncertainty management (AUM) theory of strangers’ intercultural adjustment. In Theorizing about intercultural communication. Edited by William B. Gudykunst, 419–457. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    This chapter extends the anxiety/uncertainty management (AUM) theory and reviews research findings on intercultural adjustment. The extended theory incorporates factors not included in the effective communication theory (e.g., social support, self-construals, host attitudes toward strangers).

  • Jung, Eura, Michael L. Hecht, and Brooke C. Wadsworth. 2007. The role of identity in international students’ psychological well-being: A model of depression level, identity gaps, discrimination, and acculturation. International Journal of Intercultural Relations 31.4: 605–624.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.ijintrel.2007.04.001

    This survey study tests a theoretical model postulating that acculturation and perceived discrimination influence international students’ depression through identity gaps. Personal-enacted identity gap, not personal-relational identity gap, mediates the influences of acculturation and perceived discrimination on depression.

  • Kim, Young Yun. 2001. Becoming intercultural: An integrative theory of communication and cross-cultural adaptation. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    This book presents a comprehensive theory of how immigrants and refugees overcome the challenges as they strive to build a new life in a new cultural environment. The psychological factors, the change of their internal conditions over time, the role of their ethnic and personal backgrounds, and the conditions of the host environment all influence the adaptation process.

  • Stephan, Walter G., and Cookie W. Stephan. 1985. Intergroup Anxiety. Journal of Social Issues 41.3: 157–175.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.1985.tb01134.x

    This paper proposes a theoretical model positing that the anxiety people experience when interacting with out-group members stems from fear of negative consequences developed in the situation and through personal experience. Intergroup anxiety also intensifies normative behavior patterns and information‐processing biases, and polarizes evaluations of out-group members.

  • Zhang, Yan B., and Howard Giles. 2018. Communication accommodation theory. In The international encyclopedia of intercultural communication. Edited by Young Yun Kim, 95–108. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781118783665.ieicc0156

    This article provides a systematic review of how communication accommodation theory (CAT) has contributed to our understanding of intercultural communication. CAT distinguishes itself from other intercultural theories as it considers cultural, intergroup, and personal factors in cross-cultural interaction.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.