Psychology Intercultural Psychology
John W. Berry
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 September 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0042


When individuals who are members of different cultural groups come into contact, the domain of intercultural psychology becomes central to understanding human behavior in all groups. Included in this general category of phenomena are processes involving Acculturation Psychology, Acculturation and Adaptation, Intercultural Relations, Cultural Identity, Multiculturalism, and Applications in order to improve intercultural relations. Acculturation is the process of cultural and psychological change in both cultural groups as well as individuals following their contact. Topics in acculturation include: how acculturation takes place, how well individuals and groups adapt to each other, and the links between how and how well acculturation proceeds. This last issue is important because if there are more successful outcomes associated with a particular way of acculturation, then public policies and programs may be developed to promote well-being. Most acculturation research has been devoted to understanding the factors that influence how groups such as Immigrants, Refugees, indigenous peoples, Sojourners, and ethnocultural groups acculturate and how they adapt to life in the larger society. However, research has increasingly also attended to members of the larger society. And while early studies focused on a single group in a single society, comparative studies are now more common, with multiple groups being examined in a number of societies. Topics in the domain of Intercultural Relations include ethnic attitudes and stereotypes, as well as ethnic prejudice and discrimination. These studies have a long history in social psychology, as well as in sociology and political science. Issues here are the nature of the relationships (colonization, slavery, and dominance) and the consequences of these relationships for groups and their individual members. Topics in the domain of Cultural Identity include understanding both ethnic and national identities of individuals. Ethnic identity is the sense of attachments (the value placed on being a member) and the sense of belonging that a person has with their particular cultural group. National identity is the sense of attachment within the larger society in which they live. Of particular importance is the relationship between these two identities. Can they coexist; do they conflict; and what are the psychological and social consequences of having multiple identities? Topics in the domain of Multiculturalism at the societal level include the actual presence of cultural diversity, social equity, and social cohesion in culturally plural societies and the policy orientations that a society takes to these issues. At the individual psychological level, the study of Multiculturalism includes attitudes toward diversity and equity and the degree to which individuals are willing to change in order to accommodate this diversity and accept equity. Topics in Immigrants and Refugees psychology include the process involved in migration, both voluntary and forced. When individuals who have been raised in one culture move to another culture and seek to reestablish their lives, all the issues noted above in the other sections come to the fore. Acculturation, intergroup relations, Cultural Identity, and Multiculturalism all enter into a set of complex relationships facing Immigrants and Refugees. These relationships need to be studied and their problems resolved before diverse societies can become successful.

Acculturation Psychology

Much of the early research on acculturation was carried out by cultural anthropologists, sociologists, social workers, and psychiatrists who worked with samples that were experiencing cultural and psychological difficulties. One conclusion from this early work was that acculturation was a stressful process that usually had negative consequences for groups and their individual members. In the early 21st century, psychologists—particularly in the domains of developmental and social psychology—carry out much of the work. This research has used more representative samples and has concluded that while acculturation is usually stressful, the outcomes range greatly, from negative to positive, depending on a number of contextual and personal factors.

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