Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Acculturation and Migration: Interview with Dr. J. W. Berry

A leading expert answers questions about immigrant/refugee acculturation in U.S.

In the world of social and cultural psychology, John W. Berry needs no introduction. The very field of acculturation owes a great deal to him and his four-fold model of acculturation strategies.1-3

But to the rest of us, Dr. Berry is currently Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Queen's University in Canada, and Research Professor at National Research University Higher School of Economics, in Russia.

He has published over 30 books, including the highly cited Cross-Cultural Psychology: Research and Applications. Dr. Berry is a Fellow of the Canadian Psychological Association, the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study, the International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology, and the International Academy for Intercultural Research.

Dr. Berry has received the Hebb Award (1999), the Interamerican Psychology Prize (2001), the Lifetime Contribution Award (2005), and the award for Contributions to the Advancement of International Psychology (2012).

I am privileged to interview Dr. Berry for today’s article.

1. EMAMZADEH: Dr. Berry, I introduced the concept of acculturation in a previous post, using the historical definition by Redfield and colleagues.4 How is acculturation defined today?

BERRY: As for most concepts in the social sciences, the original definition remains valid, but has been expanded and refined over the years.

It now includes the acculturation that can take place without “firsthand, continuous contact” by way of international and domestic telecommunications [such as TV]. It also has become more multifaceted in our culturally-diverse societies, where not just two cultural groups are in contact, but takes place through multiple group contacts.

Berry, Kim, Minde, & Mok, 1987
Source: Berry, Kim, Minde, & Mok, 1987

2. EMAMZADEH: Your four-fold model of acculturation strategies [see Table 1] has been highly influential in acculturation studies. Would you mind briefly describing the latest version of the model?

BERRY: The original framework emphasized attitudes and preferences along the two dimensions [cultural maintenance, and contact with other cultural groups]. They are now called strategies, because the behaviors that may follow from, and be motivated by these preferences, are also examined.

Of course, as for all attitudes, the behaviors do not always follow from what a person wants, but are constrained by what a person is able to do in a particular context.

3. EMAMZADEH: Though your four-fold model has received strong research support,3 a few investigators have questioned the validity of the model’s marginalization strategy.5

For instance, Schwartz and Zamboanga have proposed that “what appears to be marginalization may actually represent a sense of discomfort or lack of clarity in terms of who one is as a cultural being.”6 What are your thoughts on this criticism of your model?

BERRY: This “lack of clarity” is actually part of the meaning [and measurement] of marginalization in my work. It refers to not being certain where a person is in their cultural spaces, being unattached with either [or any] cultural group. So, such “criticism” is not criticism, but validation of the meaning of the concept. The term was originally defined as “being poised in psychological uncertainty between two cultures.”7

4. EMAMZADEH: I once heard someone say that immigrants these days “refuse” to acculturate. That kind of claim appears to agree with your use of the word “strategy,” which gives the impression that immigrants choose if or how to acculturate. On the other hand, you have also acknowledged the importance of the receptivity of the host nation in the process of adapting to a new culture. What are your thoughts on this?

BERRY: Your use of the term acculturate here seems to mean only “assimilate.” However, my framework lays out at least four different ways that a person seeks [chooses] to acculturate. Refusal to acculturate [that is to assimilate] can by by way of separation, integration or marginalization.

In my work, I emphasize that acculturation strategies are reciprocal and mutual,8 which precedes the 'interactive' framework of Bourhis.9 For example, a person can only integrate or assimilate if others in the larger society are open and accepting of that person's culture. There is “reciprocity” in acculturation: if the person is rejected by the larger society, then the larger society will be rejected by that person.

5. EMAMZADEH: In comparison with other types of migrants, do refugees acculturate differently?

BERRY: There is some evidence that refugees my seek to put their past behind them, by preferring assimilation more than immigrants do. And because of the trauma of their personal history, they may be more prone to marginalization.

But the evidence for these options is not strong.

6. EMAMZADEH: Initially, many of the migrants (e.g., Jewish, Italian, Irish, etc) arriving in the US were not warmly received. But things have much improved, through what I assume to be a two-way process, where migrants adapt to the American way of life and Americans also become familiar with and more accepting of new people and their ways. Do you see a similar future for Muslims and Middle-Eastern immigrants in the US, or are there fundamental differences?

BERRY: As I mentioned, acculturation is reciprocal and mutual. As long as the larger society targets a particular group, they are unlikely to orient themselves to the larger society by seeking to integrate or assimilate. Instead, they are likely to seek separation and marginalization. In these two strategies we find the basis for the possibility of radicalization and serious conflict.

7. EMAMZADEH: How is acculturation affected by a population’s racial makeup?

BERRY: I do not understand the concept of “racial makeup.” If you mean “ethnocultural background,” evidence shows that the more homogeneous is the existing population, the more likely they are to not accept “others.” A culturally-diverse population is more open to more cultural diversity.

8. EMAMZADEH: Although there are laws in the US prohibiting racial and religious discrimination, there is no multicultural policy in US, as there is in Canada—where I currently reside. In what way would a multicultural policy, at the federal level, influence the process of acculturation in the US?

BERRY: Public policy sets goals for where a society should be heading. If a government and civic leaders articulate that “diversity and equity” are good for a society [rather than saying that a particular group is “bad” and should be excluded], then the direction is made clear for improved context for acculturation and for more positive intercultural relations in our plural societies.

9. EMAMZADEH: My last two questions concern mental health. How does racism/discrimination influence the process of acculturation?

BERRY: One of the most negative factors influencing personal well-being [particularly mental health] is the experience of discrimination. Discrimination also impacts on acculturation strategies. In our work in many societies, there is a sequence: low discrimination-> preference for integration-> better mental health.

10. EMAMZADEH: Do you have any advice for new refugees and immigrants, about how to adapt more easily and successfully to their new environment?

BERRY: Seek to use the integration strategy: Remain rooted in your own culture and community, while reaching out to be involved in the larger society in which you now live.

This “double engagement” has the most positive adaptive value, psychologically, socioculturally, and interculturally.10 And if you have a choice, avoid going to countries that are overtly racist and exclusionary.

EMAMZADEH: Thank you very much Dr. Berry.


1.Berry, J. W. (1974). Psychological aspects of cultural pluralism: Unity and identity reconsidered. Topics in Cultural Learning, 2, 17-22

2. Berry, J. W. (1997). Immigration, acculturation, and adaptation. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 46, 5–34.

3. Berry, J. W. (2017). Theories and models of acculturation. In S. J. Schwartz & J. B. Unger (Eds.), Oxford handbook of acculturation and health (pp. 15-27). New York: Oxford University Press.

4. Redfield, R., Linton, R., & Herskovits, M. J. (1936). Memorandum for the study of acculturation. American Anthropologist, 38, 149–152.

5. Del Pilar, J. A., & Udasco, J. O. (2004). Deculturation: Its lack of validity. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 10, 169 –176.

6. Schwartz, S. J., & Zamboanga, B. L. (2008). Testing Berry’s model of acculturation: A confirmatory latent class approach. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 14, 275–285.

7. Stonequist, E. V. (1937). The Marginal Man: A Study in Personality and Culture Conflict. New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons.

8. Berry, J. W. (1980). Acculturation as varieties of adaptation. In A. Padilla (Ed.), Acculturation: Theory, models and some new findings (pp. 9-25). Boulder: Westview.

9. Bourhis, R. Y., Moïse, L. C., Perreault, S., & Senecal, S. (1997). Towards an interactive acculturation model: A social psychological approach. International Journal of Psychology, 32, 369-386.

10. Berry, J.W. (2017). Mutual intercultural relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

More from Arash Emamzadeh
More from Psychology Today