The Acculturation Theory And Models Cultural Studies Essay


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With increasing numbers of people immigrating into the United States every year,

the American population is becoming more diversified. In 1997 alone, a total of 798,378

new immigrants entered the U.S. (U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service 1999).

The countries' three largest minority groups, the Blacks, Hispanics, and Asian Americans

are growing much faster than Anglo Americans. In 1994, the Black population grew by

1.5%, the Hispanic population increased by 3.5%, the Asian population grew by 3.8%,

whereas the white, non-Hispanic population grew by a mere 0.4% (U.S. Bureau of the

Census 1995). The already considerable size of the minority groups and their fast

growths open up a large potential market to the firms. Anxious to target these minority

groups, marketers want to know how these ethnic groups differ from Anglo Americans

and how individuals within a group differ from each other.

Studies have been undertaken to answer these questions. Whereas factors such as

socioeconomic and demographic variables can be used to characterize these minority

groups, most research has paid attention to the influence of cultural factors on minority

individuals' consumer behavior. The two variables most often used to correlate with

these minority consumers' behavior are assimilation into the mainstream culture (e.g.,

D'Rozario and Douglas 1999; Lee 1993; Ownbey and Horridge 1997) and ethnic

identification (e.g., Stayman and Deshpande 1989). These studies found that individuals

with different assimilation levels and different ethnic identification tend to exhibit

different behavior in consumption areas such as information search behavior, shopping

orientation, and food consumption habits.

A review of these extant studies revealed several problems. First, although

concepts such as acculturation, assimilation, and ethnic identification are frequently used,

it is often unclear what these concepts really mean. Sometimes what is meant by

acculturation is actually assimilation, whereas other times acculturation and ethnic

identification are treated as synonymous. Such confusions over the concepts have also

led to different operationalization of the constructs, which poses questions about both the

validity of these studies and the comparability of the results from different studies.

Second, acculturation in many cases is taken to be equivalent to assimilation and

is treated as a unidimensional construct (D'Rozario and Douglas (1999) is a notable

exception). However, both psychological and sociological research has shown that

acculturation is a multidimensional construct (Berry, Poortinga, Segall and Dasen 1992;

Gordon 1964; Johnston 1963; Ward and Rana-Deuba 1999). Consumer researchers need

to consider these multiple dimensions of acculturation, which may have different

influence upon minority consumers' behavior.

Third, although empirical research has found that the acculturation process does

have an influence on consumer behavior (D'Rozario and Douglas 1999; Khairullah and

Khairullah 1999; Lee 1993), no systematic account exists that explains why and how

acculturation influences consumer behavior. Such a systematic explanation is imperative

if we desire a true understanding of the acculturation process and its influence on consumer behavior. Consumer researchers should go beyond the mere observation that

acculturating individuals do exhibit different consumer behavior and should explore the

mechanism that leads to such differences (Costa 1995).

This paper tries to resolve the above problems through a theoretical model of

acculturation and consumer behavior. In this model, we present some initial effort to

explore the underlying relationship between acculturation and consumer behavior. An

acculturating individual's consumption experience is understood from a consumer

resocialization perspective and from the struggle between change and continuity of the

individual's self-identity. The model also incorporates important environmental factors

and individual characteristics and explains how they can influence the relationship

between acculturation and consumer behavior.

Our model includes assimilation and ethnic identification in a broader concept --

acculturation. It is argued that acculturation is a multidimensional construct. One

dimension of acculturation is the acceptance of the host culture or the mainstream culture.

And the other dimension is the individual's maintenance of his or her original or ethnical

culture, which is closely related to the concept of ethnic identification. A person

adopting many aspects of the main culture does not necessarily has a low degree of ethnic

identification, and vice versa. Different patterns emerge as individuals vary along these

two dimensions. Having given a broad picture of our framework, we now turn to the

concept of acculturation and the difference between acculturation and assimilation.


Defining Acculturation

Formal studies of acculturation can be traced back to the work of Herskovits

(1938). Since then research on acculturation has greatly prospered. This research has

been mainly carried out by anthropologists, sociologists, and psychologists. Studies of

acculturation in consumer research area started much later (Hair and Andersen 1973;

Pruden and Longman 1972).

Acculturation has been defined differently in these areas. One widely cited

definition of acculturation was given by the Social Science Research Council (1954,

p.974): "…acculturation may be defined as culture change that is initiated by the

conjunction of two or more autonomous cultural systems." O'Guinn, Imperia and

MacAdams (1987) defined acculturation as "the process by which those new to a society

adopt the attitudes, values and behaviors of the dominant host culture." Berry et al.

(1992) interpreted acculturation as the cultural transmission experienced by an individual

due to his or her direct contact with another culture. Within the area of consumer

research, acculturation has been defined as immigrants' "acquisition of traits of the host

culture" and "maintenance of traits of the culture of origin" (Laroche et al. 1997, p.34).

All of the above definitions are concerned with the changes an individual

undergoes when in direct contact with a new culture. This is termed "psychological

acculturation" by Graves (1967). The term is used in contrast with group-level acculturation, which refers to a whole group's structural, economic and other changes due

to the group's contact with a new culture. Although an individual's acculturation

contributes to and is influenced by group-level acculturation, the two do not always

evolve in the same direction or in the same way. An individual may be highly

acculturated, whereas the group he or she belongs to may be not acculturated at all. The

reverse may also be true. As our focus here is on each individual consumer, we shall

only discuss the individual-level acculturation. We shall not constrain ourselves to only

psychological factors, as research has indicated that both sociocultural and psychological

adjustments occur in the acculturation process (Ward and Rana-Deuba 1999).

Here we define acculturation as the changes in an individual's value, attitude, and

behavior due to his or her direct contact with a culture other than his or her original

culture. This acculturation is a long process and can go on for several years or even

throughout a person's entire life. Different individuals may take different paces in this

acculturation process. Some individuals may be completely assimilated into the host

culture and lost their original cultural identity, while other individuals may integrate the

host culture into their original culture. Therefore this acculturation process is highly

individualized and is influenced by an individual's psychological traits as well as

environmental and other external factors.

Having defined acculturation, it is useful to further distinguish acculturation from

assimilation. Acculturation and assimilation are similar since they all refer to a process

that happens when an individual is in direct contact with a new culture. But assimilation

takes on a much narrower meaning than acculturation. Assimilation refers to the

adoption of the host culture and the loss of the original culture. It is a unidirectional

process that goes from the individual's original culture to the new host culture. As one

moves on in the assimilation process, he loses part of his original culture and acquires the

host culture so that he or she will be indistinguishable from people in the host culture.

Acculturation, on the other hand, does not necessarily presume the loss of one's original

culture and does not always lead to the adoption of the host culture. It is a

multidimensional construct, which is discussed next.

Multidimensional Nature of Acculturation

In most studies of acculturation by consumer researchers, acculturation is

measured by some scale on various items pertaining to the respondents' acculturation

process, such as language preference and knowledge about the host culture. A

respondent's scores on all items are then summed up (or further averaged) to yield a

single score of the respondent's acculturation level. This practice presumes acculturation

to be unidimensional and therefore can be expressed by a single score. However,

research in psychology and sociology has shown that acculturation is a more complex

multidimensional concept.

Laroche et al. (1997) argued that acculturation consists of three dimensions:

media exposure, social interaction and participation, and English language use with

family members. The structure was supported by their test on Italian-Canadians.

Although the study confirmed that acculturation is a multidimensional construct, their exclusion of questions other than those related to these three factors makes their

conclusion on the exact structure of acculturation only tentative.

Gordon (1964) defined seven interdependent yet distinct dimensions of

assimilation: cultural assimilation, which he defines as acculturation, structural

assimilation, marital assimilation, identificational assimilation, attitude receptional

assimilation, behavior receptional assimilation, and civic assimilation. Although he

focused on assimilation rather than acculturation, these components or dimensions can

also be validly used to describe acculturation. When we talk about individual-level

acculturation, however, some of the dimensions above can be excluded. Factors such as

marital assimilation, attitude receptional assimilation, behavior receptional assimilation,

and civic assimilation are more relevant group-level acculturation process and are not

under an individual's control (D'Rozario and Douglas 1999).

Johnston (1963) distinguished between two aspects of acculturation, the

behavioral part he called external assimilation and the attitudinal part named internal

assimilation. Under this structure, the individual may take on the behaviors expected by

the host culture, including speaking the language of the culture, dressing like most people

in the culture do, and eating what these people eat. However, these actions may be done

under certain obligations and the individual may not identify with the host culture at all.

Johnson's internal assimilation is some way similar to the concept of ethnic identification

we often use in consumer research, but it is the identification with the host culture rather

than with the original culture as defined by ethnic identification.

Another widely used multidimensional structure of acculturation was proposed by

Berry (1980). This framework pays more attention to the attitude an individual holds

towards the host culture and the original culture. The two dimensions are the deemed

importance of maintaining one's original culture and identity and the importance of

maintaining relationship with other groups. The values individuals take on these

dimensions vary continuously. Taking the extremes of the two dimensions, we get four

different acculturation strategies. When it is considered important to maintain one's own

culture as well as maintain relationship with other groups, an integration strategy will be

adopted. When such a strategy is also accepted by the majority group, the outcome will

be a pluralism society. When it is considered of value to maintain relationship with other

groups but not important to maintain the original culture, an assimilation strategy will be

used. The acculturating individual will gradually lose his or her original culture and

identity and mix him or herself into the host society. When maintaining the original

culture and identity is considered important but not so for maintaining relationship with

other groups, the acculturating individual will adopt a separation strategy and will isolate

him or herself from the influence of the host culture. When neither maintaining the

original culture nor maintaining relationship with other groups is considered important, a

marginalization situation will result. Often a third culture will appear. Based on the

above framework, an acculturating individual's behavior will be based on the attitudes he

or she has, which also predicts the stress the individual may experience in the

acculturation process.

An obvious observation from the above is that different researchers have

proposed different structures for the acculturation construct. Some look at purely

behavioral variables (Laroche et al. 1997), some use purely attitudinal variables (Berry

1980), yet others combine both behavioral and attitudinal variables in the structure

(Johnston 1963). Although these structures differ from each other, they all state that

acculturation is not a unidimensional construct, but a multidimensional construct.

Therefore, when a researcher states level of acculturation with a single score, the result

may be biased and may not reflect the real influence of the different aspects of


Therefore, it is very important for consumer researchers to define a clear

multidimensional construct of acculturation and measure the construct accordingly.

While different definitions of the dimensions of acculturation may be suitable for

different research problems, at present, we will adopt Berry's (1980) two-dimensional

structure of acculturation. This framework has been widely applied in acculturation

research and has been supported by empirical studies (e.g., Berry, Kim, Power, Young,

and Bujaki 1989; Berry, Wintrob, Sindell, and Mawhinney 1982). The two dimensions

are also closely related to existing acculturation research in consumer studies. The

deemed importance of maintaining one's own cultural identity can be easily associated

with the frequently used concept of ethnic identification. Ethnic identification refers to

which ethnic group an individual identifies with and how strong the identification is. A

positive correlation can immediately be seen between ethnic identification and the

importance of maintaining one's own cultural identity. An individual considering maintaining his or her cultural identity important is likely to be more strongly identified

with his or her ethnic or cultural group, while an individual strongly identified with his

cultural group also tends to think it important to maintain this group's identity. Therefore,

research on ethnic identification can be drawn upon to yield a better understanding of this

dimension of acculturation.

Likewise, the second dimension, whether it is considered of value to maintain

relationship with the majority group, is closely related to assimilation research. Although

assimilation involves a loss of one's original cultural identity, which is not implied by

this dimension of acculturation, the part of assimilation regarding the adoption of the host

culture undoubtedly offers a good opportunity for understanding the relationship between

the acculturating individual and the host culture. The whole body of research on

assimilation and its effects on consumer behavior can be tactically integrated to the study

of this dimension of acculturation, that is, the deemed importance of maintaining

relationship with the majority group for the acculturating individual.

Although one may argue that other multidimensional structures may also be

appropriate or may be more appropriate for understanding acculturation, we do not think

the use of Berry's (1980) framework will produce much difference in our theoretical

model compared with models adopting these other structures of acculturation. Our focus

here is on the multidimensional nature of acculturation and its relationship with

consumer behavior, which is the core of our theoretical model.

Learn to Consume in a New Culture: Consumer Socialization Perspective

Upon immigrating into a new country, an individual starts a long journey of

learning. Part of this journey is learning to consume in the new culture. In the new

country, the individual may encounter products or services that are not available in his or

her original country, or may find products or services been bestowed totally different

meaning. Some of the consumption-related knowledge or skills the individual have

acquired in the original country are no longer applicable here. For example, due to his or

her unfamiliarity with the host country's currency and pricing system, the immigrant may

find it difficult to judge the price of a product to be high or low. The immigrant may also

find it hard to choose from an array of different brands, as he or she may have not heard

about the brands at all, not to mention any experience with these brands. His or her past

experiences with other brands are no longer useful because those brands he or she is

familiar with are simply not available here. Therefore, an immigrant has to engage him

or herself in learning to consume correctly and wisely in the new country. It is this

learning process that renders the concept of consumer socialization important in

accounting for acculturating individuals' consumption experience.

Consumer socialization has been defined as "the process by which young people

acquire skills, knowledge, and attitudes relevant to their effective functioning as

consumers in the marketplace" (Ward 1974). Although this definition as well as earlier

consumer researchers has been predominantly focused on the socialization of children

and adolescents as consumers, some researchers have already looked at adult consumers'

socialization (e.g., Goodwin and Sewall 1992), or sometimes called consumer

resocialization. Because a majority of immigrants are already adults when they come

into the new country or at least have had some socialization that tend to be different from

that in the host culture, they are very likely to undergo this resocialization.

Three approaches, cognitive developmental approach, interpersonal

communication approach, and social learning approach, have dominated consumer

socialization research (O'Guinn and Faber 1987). Among these the social learning

approach is particularly relevant to an immigrant's socialization, since it emphasizes the

influence of social interactions on the socialization process. A key concept in the social

learning approach is socialization agents, the media through which values, attitudes, and

knowledge are transmitted to the socializing individual. Four most important

socialization agents, family, peers, mass media, and institutions, have been identified.

Consumer socialization proceeds under the influence of these socialization agents

through modeling, reinforcement and social interaction.

As the four socialization agents carry different intentions when they influence the

socializing individual, the information and the influence an individual receives from them

tends to be different. Family tends to have a profound influence on an individual.

During an immigrant's resocialization, family can either deter the process by carrying

with it the traditional consumption-related values from the original culture, or accelerate

the socialization by integrating the socialization experiences of all family members,

therefore producing a bigger picture an individual may not be able to see by him or

herself. In the case of marriage between an acculturating individual and a member of the

host culture, family enables the acculturating individual to have intimate contact with the

host culture in various aspects and accelerates the resocialization process.

Peer groups can be divided into peers from the original culture and peers from the

host culture. Peers from the original culture share the same cultural background with the

acculturating individual. Associating with them tend to preserve the individual's original

culture, attitudes, and values. Excessive interaction with these peers may even make it

possible for the individual to be isolated from the host culture, as may be the case for

individuals living in a ghetto of his native people and have little contact with the outside

world. Peers from the host culture, however, provide rich information related to

consumption in the new culture. This information can be transmitted by conversation

with these peers on consumption related issues, or can simply be obtained by the

acculturating individual's observation of how these peers consume. Such interactions

provide the individual with real and first-hand information on consumption in the new

country and facilitate his or her adaptation into the new consumption environment.

Different from peer groups, mass media often depicts a distorted social reality.

Media seldom provide knowledge related to direct consumption skills such as price and

specific product information. On the contrary, mass media tend to depict conspicuous consumption and life of the rich people (O'Guinn and Faber 1987). According to

cultivation theory, people do take in the reality represented by the mass media despite the

obvious bias in the presentation (O'Guinn and Faber 1991). For people who watch

television a lot, they tend to form a perception of social reality biased towards that

presented in television programs. As an acculturating individual lacks experience with

the host culture, he or she may be especially vulnerable to the messages from mass media.

Research has shown that acculturating individuals' perceived social reality of the host

country is indeed biased towards that of richer life as often depicted in television

programs (Lee 1989).

No such definite conclusions can be drawn on institutions, however, because of

the diverse nature of different institutions. Institutions such as consumer protection

organizations can help an acculturating individual to form a correct and efficient way of

consuming in the host country. On the other hand, institutions associated with marketers,

such as retailers, may at the same time mislead the individual.

The social learning approach to consumer socialization can help us understand

how acculturating individuals learn to consume in a new country and why the outcome of

this learning process often turns out to be different for different individuals. This

difference in outcome is a result of the different impact each socialization agent has on an

individual, which can come from the individual's voluntary as well as involuntary choice

of the socialization agents.

Environmental factors pose restrictions on the socialization agents an

acculturating individual is likely to be in contact with. An example of such environmental factors is the acculturating individual working environment. Working in a

company whose employees are mainly from the host culture and working in a company

who employs people from the same cultural origin as the acculturating individual surely

produce different sets of peers the individual directly contacts. Individuals without

adequate access to host culture through the host country's people may have to rely

heavily on other information sources such as mass media and family for advice on


The two dimensions of acculturation, the acculturating individual's attitudes

towards the host culture and the original culture lead to his or her voluntary selection of

socialization agents. An individual with a positive attitude towards the host culture tends

to be more willing to consult information sources from the host culture, such as the host

country's mass media, peers from the host country. An individual who sticks to his or

her original culture and does not accept the host culture, however, may turn to family or

peers from the original culture for advice. Empirical research has shown that individuals

who are more structurally assimilated tend to consult friends, coworkers, salesperson and

mere observation before purchase, whereas individuals less assimilated tend to turn to

family for advice (D'Rozario and Douglas 1999).

These voluntary as well as involuntary choices of socialization agents to a great

extent determines what the acculturating individual sees and learns about the

consumption reality in the host country. These differences in learning further lead to

different consumer behavior, such as processing advertisements differently or using

different criteria in making purchase decisions.

Change versus Continuity: The Role of Products and Consumption

Change and continuity are two important themes of the self. It is through constant

changes that the self develops. At the same time, to keep the self integrated and unified,

there also needs to be certain continuity of the self during the changing process. This

ongoing dialogue between change and continuity makes up the history of the self. Just as

historical remnants make it possible for us to understand and partially reproduce

historical events and the life of historical people, there are also certain things that

symbolize an individual's past, present and future self. Both the individual's possessions

and people around the individual make up the extended self (Belk 1988) and substantiate

the history of his or her self.

Although many changes in self are trivial and may not even be recognized, other

changes can be dramatic and can significantly alter the self. The changes an

acculturating individual's self undergoes would belong to the latter. When an individual

comes to a new country, he or she is very likely to experience dramatic changes through

the acculturation process, especially when the individual's original culture is very

different from the host culture. It is very important for the individual to adapt to the

changes and at the same time to maintain the continuity of the self. Possessions play an

important role in this self-management. On the one hand, acquiring new possessions or

products, especially products strongly associated with the host culture, helps the self to

transfer to the new culture. On the other hand, old possessions remind the acculturating individual of his or her past and provide the basis to go on as still the same self, therefore soothing possible conflicts or stress brought by the changes. As very few old possessions

can be carried when one travels abroad, these possessions are substituted by products

from the original country or products symbolizing the original culture.

For individuals in different acculturation modes, the emphasis on change versus

continuity will be different. For assimilationists, they will be eager to change themselves

to the new identity as a member of the host culture. For them, products from the host

country are often purchased and consumed to show belonging to the host culture. For

integrationists, however, emphasis will be put on both change and continuity. Products

from host country are consumed and absorbed, and at the same time products from the

original country are equally cherished. Integrationists' consumption pattern will be

expected to be a mixture of host country style and original country style. For

separationists, since they stick to their old culture and cannot or are not willing to accept

the new culture, they will be resistant to change as well as the products symbolizing such

changes. For these individuals, products from the original country or products

symbolizing the original culture will be treated with enthusiasm and bestowed

significance these products may not have before. For marginalists, they neither care

about maintaining their original culture, nor want to assimilate into the host culture.

There is a change going on that forsakes the original culture but does not take on the host

culture. Both products symbolizing the original culture and products representing the

host culture will be rejected. As a third culture may emerge as a result of marginalization,

marginalists will consume in a way that is consistent with this new culture, and a new

consumption pattern characterizing this third culture may be formed.

Before we turn to the next section, it is necessary to point out that acculturating

individual's resocialization and self-management are not two competing explanations of

the relationship between acculturation and consumer behavior. Rather, they often take

place at the same time and can be used to explain different aspects of the individual's

unique consumption pattern.

Effects of Individual Characteristics

Individual characteristics can be divided into two broad categories: demographic

and socioeconomic characteristics, such as age, gender and income, and psychological

characteristics, such as motivation and personality. Predominant attention has been given

to the demographic characteristics of acculturating individuals. Variables such as age,

gender, and income have been used in empirical research mainly to present the profiles of

the samples used and to demonstrate the external validity of the studies. Few studies,

however, have paid attention to how these demographic and socioeconomic variables

play roles in acculturation or consumer acculturation, and especially in the relationship

between acculturation and consumer behavior. The effects of such demographic

variables cannot be ignored. Weinstock (1964) found that religion and previous

occupation in Hungary have significant influence on Hungarians' assimilation into

American culture. Kuo and Lin (1977) also found significant correlation between age

and education of Chinese-Americans and their ethnic identification.

Not only can demographic factors influence acculturation itself, they can also

moderate the relationship between acculturation and consumer behavior. Age and life cycle stage have been related to consumer socialization. At different ages and life cycle

stages, people tend to learn different consumption-related knowledge and values and tend

to interact differently with socialization agents (Moschis 1987). Gender can also

influence the socialization process through different socialization agent choice and

different contents of the mass media consumed (Moschis 1987). Socioeconomic factors

may likewise influence an individual's access to different socialization agents and to

different knowledge and values.

Demographic and socioeconomic variables can also moderate the interaction

between acculturation and consumer behavior through the individual's self-identity.

People at different ages or life-cycle stages and with different education levels tend to

have different emphases on different aspects of the self. If an individual immigrates to a

new country when he or she is relatively young, his or her self may not be very deep

rooted in the original culture yet or may not even be mature enough. Change is not quite

a problem for him or her, as young people tend to look more at the future. If the

individual immigrates at a later life-cycle stage, however, he or she may feel a greater

challenge in changing his or her self. As people grow older, they tend to look more at

the past and tend to resist changes that would separate them from the past. Male and

female also tend to have different self-perceptions, which prompt them to use different

coping strategies when faced with changes. All these demographic and/or socioeconomic

variables influence an individual's self-perception, his or her attitude towards changes in

the self, and his or her ability to deal with such changes, which further influences the

consumption style he or she adopts in the new country.

We have discussed how an individual's demographic and socioeconomic

characteristics can influence his or her acculturation process and moderate the

relationship between acculturation and consumer behavior. These characteristics are also

well known to have a direct influence on consumer behavior itself. For example, males

and females tend to process information differently and tend to be the family decision

makers for different products and different decision variables (Davis 1970; Meyers-Levy

and Maheswaran 1991). As our main focus here is on acculturation and its relationship

with consumer behavior, we shall not dwell on such direct influences on consumer

behavior in further detail.

Compared with demographic and socioeconomic variables, psychological factors

such as motivation and personality have received far less attention in acculturation

studies by consumer researchers. However, these factors are important antecedents of

behavior and have significant influence on behavior. Without considering these

psychological characteristics of an acculturating individual, we will not be able to fully

understand his or her consumer behavior. Due to space limit, we will focus on one

psychological factor, personality, to illustrate how psychological factors can play a role in

acculturating individuals' consumption life.

Personality is defined as "a person's unique psychological makeup, which

consistently influences the way the person responds to his or her environment" (Solomon

1994, p.623). Among the different approaches to personality research, trait theory has by

far received the most attention in consumer research. Trait theory decomposes

personality into a set of traits such as extroversion and agreeableness. Each trait has unique implications on behavior. Consumer researchers have studies a variety of traits

including neuroticism, extroversion, ascendancy and responsibility. Earlier researchers

tried to associate these personality traits directly with consumer behavior. But

inappropriate measures of personality and incompatibility between personality traits and

consumer behavior studied have led to disappointing results. Personality is found to have

either no influence on consumer behavior at all or only very weak relationship with

behavior (Kassarjian 1971). Recently, researchers have explored alternative ways of

associating personality with consumer behavior. Instead of directly influencing

consumer behavior, personality traits are found to influence behavior through some

mediating variables (Moordian and Olver 1997) and/or to moderate the relationship

between situational factors and behavior (Holbrook and Olney 1995).

To appropriately incorporate personality into our acculturation model, we also

need to consider the various paths these personality traits may influence acculturation and

acculturating consumers' behavior. First, personality can influence an acculturating

individual's consumption through acculturation. Weinstock (1964) found that

Hungarian-Americans with higher achievement orientation are more assimilated. He also

found manipulative and cynical tendencies to be significantly related to level of

assimilation. However, he didn't find authoritarian tendencies, agreeableness, tendency

to agree with incompatible items and extremity to have significant influence on

acculturation. Weinstock's study is illustrative of the potential effects personality has on

acculturation. But not enough empirical evidences have been collected to form a guiding

theory as to what personality traits are relevant to acculturation process and what are not.

unique implications on behavior. Consumer researchers have studies a variety of traits

including neuroticism, extroversion, ascendancy and responsibility. Earlier researchers

tried to associate these personality traits directly with consumer behavior. But

inappropriate measures of personality and incompatibility between personality traits and

consumer behavior studied have led to disappointing results. Personality is found to have

either no influence on consumer behavior at all or only very weak relationship with

behavior (Kassarjian 1971). Recently, researchers have explored alternative ways of

associating personality with consumer behavior. Instead of directly influencing

consumer behavior, personality traits are found to influence behavior through some

mediating variables (Moordian and Olver 1997) and/or to moderate the relationship

between situational factors and behavior (Holbrook and Olney 1995).

To appropriately incorporate personality into our acculturation model, we also

need to consider the various paths these personality traits may influence acculturation and

acculturating consumers' behavior. First, personality can influence an acculturating

individual's consumption through acculturation. Weinstock (1964) found that

Hungarian-Americans with higher achievement orientation are more assimilated. He also

found manipulative and cynical tendencies to be significantly related to level of

assimilation. However, he didn't find authoritarian tendencies, agreeableness, tendency

to agree with incompatible items and extremity to have significant influence on

acculturation. Weinstock's study is illustrative of the potential effects personality has on

acculturation. But not enough empirical evidences have been collected to form a guiding

theory as to what personality traits are relevant to acculturation process and what are not.


The emergence of immigrants as a new market opportunity has led studies of

immigrants' consumption behavior by both practitioners and academic researchers.

Studying the immigrants' acculturation process and their consumption behavior offer us

both a better view of this specific segment and a better understanding of the cultural

dynamics underlying consumer behavior. In this paper, we presented a theoretical model

that can help guide research in this area. The model proposes two paths through which

acculturation can influence consumer behavior. One is through consumer resocialization

an acculturating individual undergoes. The other is through the individual's selfmanagement

when faced with dramatic changes in the self often characteristic of the

acculturation process. Environmental factors and individual demographic,

socioeconomic, and psychological characteristics can influence both paths and therefore

moderate the relationship between acculturation and consumer behavior.

Several directions for future research can be immediately seen. First, most

research has operationalized acculturation as a unidimensional construct. Future research

should recognize the fact that individuals accepting the new culture do not necessarily

throw away their original cultures. They can adopt a variety of acculturation strategies

including separation and integration. Psychologists and sociologists have developed

multidimensional measures of acculturation that can be adapted to consumer research.

Consumer researchers can also integrate measures of assimilation and measures of ethnic

identification to form a two-dimensional measure of acculturation. Both construction and

validation of acculturation measures suitable for consumer research are needed.

Second, consumer researchers can study acculturating individuals' consumption

experience from consumer resocialization perspective. Some research has been

undertaken in this direction. Penaloza (1989) proposed a model of consumer

acculturation based on consumer socialization. There are also studies on acculturating

individuals' information searching behavior and their interaction with socialization

agents such as mass media (D'Rozario and Douglas 1999; Lee 1989). We need more

research that studies the influence of other socialization agents such as peers and

institutions on an acculturating individual and how he or she interacts with them.

Studies on mass media can also be carried further to learn acculturating individuals'

media consumption pattern and how different patterns lead to different consumptionrelated

perception, attitudes and values.

Third, how acculturating individuals manage their self-concept during the

acculturating process and how different management strategies are reinforced and

reflected in the individuals' consumption need to be explored. Consumer researchers

have realized the significance of self-concept in consumption and have argued that

possessions are part of an individual's extended self (Belk 1988). These concepts can be

applied to acculturating individuals to find out how dynamics of the self are associated

with consumer behavior.

Last, but not the least, consumer researchers should make more efforts to study

how an individual's demographic, socioeconomic and psychological characteristics can

influence his or her acculturation process and consumption. Researchers should go

beyond measuring these variables only for testing external validity, but should also study

these variables themselves as they may have important implications on how acculturating

consumers learn and consume. Efforts should especially be made to identify variables

relevant to consumer research and to establish measures of these variables. Statistical

tests can be done to test these variables' moderating effects and their indirect effects on

consumer behavior.

Study of acculturating consumers can offer us insight into immigrants' consumer

behavior and consumer behavior in general. We hope that our initial effort to build some

theoretical guidance for the field can stimulate consumer researchers' interest in this area.

With more research undertaken, we shall expect to see deepened knowledge of

acculturating individuals' consumption experience and a more comprehensive

understanding of consumers.

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