The Differences (or Similarities) Between Ethnic identity, Cultural identity, and Acculturation

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The unprecedented increase in the rate of international migration have prompted many social scientists to look at studying the many aspects of culture that interact with the whole immigration process, and the many changes that occur not only to the immigrant groups but to the members of the host community.

A review of studies on attitudinal, cultural and/or behavioural change as a result of the immigration and adaptation processes has identified three constructs that have received much attention among researchers. They include: ‘ethnic identity’ which is generally defined as the degree to which an individual perceives himself as part of an ethnic group (Trimble & Dickson, 2005); ‘cultural identity’ which is perceived as the level of engagement, or the degree of familiarity an individual feels toward a particular culture (Tsai, Chentsova-Dutton & Wong, 2002); and ‘acculturation’ which is widely recognised as a process by which an individual may try to adjust in a new culture, without necessarily discarding the beliefs and traditions of their country of origin (Berry, 1980).

The three constructs are very similar to one another as they may all refer to an individual’s or group of individuals’ various experiences in their new socio-cultural environment, the changes in the way they think, their new-formed relationships and the new patterns of interactions that developed over time. They are not constant and all can have significant impact on individuals.

Due to the general similarities of the three constructs, and the absence of a widely agreed upon definition for each, many researchers often used them interchangeably in the literature (Tsai, Chentsova-Dutton & Wong, 2002). It is therefore important to look at their meanings ...

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Trimble, J. E. & Dickson, R. (2005). Ethnic identity. In C. B. Fisher & R. M. (Eds.), Encyclopedia of applied developmental science, (pp. 415-420) Volume I. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Tsai, J.L., Chentsova-Dutton, Y., & Wong, Y. (2002). Why and how we should study ethnic identity, acculturation, and cultural orientation. In G. Hall & S. Okazaki (Eds.). Asian American Psychology: The science of lives in Context (pp. 41-65). Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

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Yeh, C. J. (2003 ). Age, acculturation, cultural adjustment, and mental health symptoms of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese immigrant youths. . Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 9(1), 34-48. doi: 10.1037/1099-9809.9.1.34

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