Acculturation and Well-being of Immigrants and Refugees


Zeynep Sagir (University of Istanbul)

In earshot of bombs: Identity, acculturation, mental health, and coping in Muslim refugees on the Syria-Turkey Border

Problem. The war in Syria has created the biggest refugee crisis since World War 2. The news media document international and intra-national conflicts over how to address the humanitarian issues. Far less attention goes to psychological perspectives on the issues confronting the refugees’ identity and how they navigate forced identity changes, the processes involved in acculturation and integration to a different country, and their reciprocal interactions with mental health status, coping strategies, and reactions to multiple traumatic experiences. Unique to this war is that most victims are Arabic Muslims who self-identify has highly religious. Thus, the role of either positive or negative religiousness in coping may be especially important for psychological understanding of the moderation of suffering and regulation of identities for these refugees.

In the ideal research world, the published literature on people suffering from traumatic events would apply straight-forwardly to the Syrian refugees. This is not the case, however. Most psychological research has been done on sufferers in circumstances other than war, none yet done on refugees of this war, and most done in context of Western or broadly Judeo-Christianized countries. Far less research is based on Muslim refugees or in context of Islamic countries. This presentation reports findings from two studies — the only psychological research to date on the above issues on refugees from the war in Syria who are still close to the Syria-Turkey border.

Study 1. Five hundred fifty-three Syrian refugees (61% female, 39% male; mean age = 28 years) volunteered to participate. They had experience one or more of the following: bomb attacks (48.8%), raid attacks (34.7%), assassination (34.2%), maltreatment/torture (23.9%), participation in combat (21.2%), imprisonment (20.3%), being taken hostage (11%), attempted suicide (8.3%), and rape (3.3% of women officially reporting rape; additional victims unofficially reporting). The subjects, all Arabic speakers, completed the following in Arabic translation: a checklist of traumatic events, a religious coping scale (Brief RCOPE: Pargament, Smith, Koenig, & Perez, 1998), a self-report depression scale (CES-D: Radloff, 1977), and a 15-item health questionnaire (the somatic symptom severity scale-PHQ-15: Kocalevent, Hinz, & Brähler, 2013).

In order to aid our understanding of the relationshıps between the demographic and the coping and health variables, it wıll help to first summarize the relationships between some demographic variables. The mean religiosity score for the whole sample was 5.8 on the 1-7 scale. This mean is noticeably higher than the scale’s theoretical midpoınt of 4. The participants self-identıfıed as relatively hıgh in religiousness. However, the degree of religiousness did not differ significantly accordıng to gender (M = 5.7, F = 5.9; p = .16) — a finding at variance with almost all past data on gender dıfferences in religiousness, including in Muslım populations. There was no significant difference between married and single people, but relıgıousness was posıtıvely correlated wıth age (r = .117, p < .05) but not wıth education level.

Degree of religiousness, positive and negative religious coping, and depressıon and somatization were related in both predicted and unexpected ways. Most strikingly, 81.4% of the participants showed clinical levels of depression, an exceptıonally hıgh proportion for any population. Positive religious coping was used significantly more than negative coping (p < .05) and was more effective for women (p < .05).

In stepwise regression analyses, negative religious copıng was the 1st predictor of higher depression (β = .247, p = .000). In the 2nd step positive religious coping was a significant predictor of higher depressıon (b = .226, p = .000), a fınding opposite to almost all published research on that relationship. This presentation will explain this unusual finding. Negative coping added slightly to that effect (b = .089, p = .036).

Marital status was an important predictor of depressıon and somatızatıon, but not in the simple sense of marrıed versus unmarried comparısons. An analysis of variance showed that the mean scores for those who were married or single were almost identıcal for depressıon (married M = 26.29, SD = 12.08; single M = 25.74, SD = 11.19) and somatization (married M = 9.07, SD = 5.73; single M = 8.06, SD = 4.61), but those who were eıther widowed or divorced (total combined = 35 wıth nearly equal scores, thus combined for purposes of analysis) showed significantly higher mean scores on depression (M = 30.74, SD = 11.12) and somatization (M = 11.68, SD = 5.58) (depression ANOVA F = 2.841, p < .059), a finding made understandable by the cultural roles of women and their lack of security and safety if forced into singlehood.

Study 2. Data for Study 2 are being collected during the summer and fall, 2016; data analyses follow immediately thereafter. It extends Study 1 in both methodology and substance. Study 2 includes quantitative data from 2000 refugees. In addition, in-depth interviews are conducted with 100 refugees and submitted to qualitative analyses. This combination of methods promises to yield the most accurate and complete psychological picture of the refugee’s status to date.

Study 2 extends Study 1 by examining the refugees’ process of acculturation, identity re-formation, mental health and somatization in context of acculturation, and positive and negative religious and other coping strategies, with special attention to various contextual variables and to the time lag between entry into Turkey and the present. In addition to the demographic, health, and coping measures in Study 1, participants also completed Arabic versions of the Vancouver Index of Acculturation (VIA: Ryder et al., 2000), the Sense of Coherence Scale (SOC: Antonovsky, 1993), the Satisfaction With Life Scale (Diener, Emmons, Larsen, & Griffin, 1985), a self-report depression scale (CES-D: Radloff, 1977), and the Psychological Measure of Islamic Religiousness (PMIR: Abu-Raiya et al., 2008).

The theoretical model guiding the research, organized around the concept of acculturation (Rudmin, 2009), is aimed at clarifying the psychological processes that mediate various acculturative outcomes. The processes include (1) acculturative motivations including attitudes, identity, distress, and costs and benefits of fitting in with the new culture, (2) learning as mediated by information, instruction, imitation, and mentors, (3) changes in individuals evidenced by new skills and behaviours, identities and loyalties, social relations, and beliefs and values, (4) and consequences for life outcomes such as family relations, success, personal growth, and well-being. This talk presents the outcomes that address various predictions and interpretations of the model, and suggests how the results can be applied.

Discussion. The findings include some that follow straightforwardly from published research and standard psychological theory. More intellectually interesting, however, are some unexpected results, including those statistically significant in ways opposite to expectations. The “bigger picture” afforded by use of the acculturation model in Study 2 is especially valuable in that the processes involved are no longer treated as static or isolated variables, but are instead part of a more integrated network of psychological processes that work together to help or hinder refugee acculturation and well-being.




Yasin Koc (University of Sussex), Joel Anderson (Australian Catholic University), Nicholas Thomas (American University of Beirut), & Adham Yousef (All Saints University)

Patterns of motivated acculturation: Attitudes and expectations in the United States from Syrian refugees’ and US citizens’ perspectives

This is a two-study project investigating whether patterns of acculturation are susceptible to motivational influences (i.e., in accordance with the literature on motivated cognition).

Overall, we are interested in exploring whether social knowledge (i.e., knowledge of expectations of locals from the home culture to acculturate in a certain way) might actually motivate the reported patterns of acculturation from the acculturating group. We explore the interplay of local and refugee perceptions of these strategies experimentally in two studies. The first study addresses the first half of this interplay; we explore if which strategy locals perceive as being used by a group of refugees can change attitudes towards the group (i.e., do locals have different attitudes towards refugees who they believe are trying to assimilate compared to refugees that believe are trying to integrate?). The second study addresses the second half of this interplay; we explore if refugees report different intended strategies for acculturation based on what they believe locals prefer (i.e., do refugees report acculturation strategies that match the preferences of the majority?). We measure a series of theoretically informed moderator variables (i.e., religiosity, social dominance orientation, right-wing authoritarianism, and in-group identification) to try and discover boundary conditions under which these effects are stronger or weaker.

Study 1 comprises an online sample of US citizens who are given false feedback (i.e., results from a fabricated survey) about the type of refugees from Syria (IV1; either refugees fleeing war or economic refugees) and how they attempt to acculturate (IV2; assimilate vs. integrate), and then we will see if this impacts their perceptions of them (DVs: group-based empathy, attitudes towards them, and social distance). We expect significant main effects of both IVs, and a significant interaction effect. Specifically, we expect US citizen to have less negative attitudes and less social distance towards Syrian refugees if they are presented refugees fleeing the war and ready to assimilate. This effect could potentially be moderated by religiosity and right-wing authoritarianism.

Study 2 comprises a sample of Syrian refugees recruited from community centres who are relocated to the United States. They are also given false feedback that the majority of United States citizens would prefer that refugees adopt the American culture, and then we manipulate whether these same citizens would either prefer they retain their home culture identification, or dis-identify with their home culture (IV; integrate or assimilate). We then measure their level of acculturation orientations (DV). We expect participants in the integrate condition to have higher levels of integration orientation whereas participants in the assimilate condition to have lower levels of integration.

The study has ethics approval from Australian Catholic University, Melbourne. Participants are currently recruited using snowballing techniques by the researchers on this project – Mr Thomas and Mr. Yosef – who work as counsellors of Syrian refugees who have newly arrived in the United States. The experiments are conducted with full knowledge of the APA and APS guidelines on avoiding coercion, dual relationships, and full debriefing procedure at the end.

This project aims to extend the understanding of whether motivational influences are related to perceptions of and acculturation strategies of refugees, and such insights could be useful to implement interventions for currently relocating refugee groups as well as providing further understanding into intergroup relations and management of refugee identity.



Kim Noels (University of Alberta), Mantou Lou (University of Alberta), Rui Zhang (Dickinson College), Kathryn Chaffee (University of Alberta), Jianhui Song (University of Alberta), Sabine Ricioppo (University of Alberta), & Zoey Xiaozhou Zhang (University of Alberta)

Language and the acculturation of Chinese immigrants’ ethnic identity: Linguistic self-confidence predicts situated ethnic identity patterns better than objective proficiency

Proficiency in the language of the receiving society is one of the most important predictors of successful economic and social integration of immigrants into that society. In order to better understand the relation between language and social integration as indexed by ethnic identity, Clément and Noels’ situated ethnic identity model draws from theory in social and cultural psychology and sociolinguistics. It maintains that changes in ethnic identity are likely to take place first in social situations where there is the opportunity for interethnic contact, such as in the workplace and the broader community. As social networks develop to include members from the receiving society in other, more intimate domains, acculturative changes in identity eventually become evident in these domains. This process is facilitated by the communication skills; with stronger skills in the local language, one is better able to negotiate identities that align with members of the receiving society.

Although a growing body of research supports the tenets of this model, as with many investigations of the psychology of immigrant acculturation, most of this research has involved cross-sectional designs. As a first step in incorporating a temporal dimension, the present paper reports on the first wave of a 5-year longitudinal study comparing a community sample of 105 Chinese immigrants who arrived in Canada within 6 months of participating in the study with a sample of 98 who have been in Canada between 3-4 years, which is the earliest point at which permanent residents can apply for Canadian citizenship. Through interviews and questionnaires, aspects of participants’ ethnic identity and their English competence and use were assessed, including their Chinese and Canadian identities across a variety of situational domains (e.g., with family, friends, at work, in the community) and their self-assessed competence and confidence using English. As well, participants participated in a standardized interview in English, and an expert ESL assessor rated their oral English proficiency according to the Canadian Language Benchmarks, the national standards for English in Canada. The results showed that, as hypothesized by the situated ethnic identity model, Canadian identity was stronger in public domains and weaker in private domains, corresponding with opportunities for intercultural contact and English use. Canadian identity tended to be stronger for more established residents than more recent arrivals, even in more private domains. The more established group was more linguistically competent, both in terms of their self-assessment and the expert assessment. Linguistic self-confidence, and to a lesser extent objective proficiency, moderated the pattern of situated identity, such that people who were less confident in English had stronger Chinese identity across domains, regardless of their length of residence. These results help to clarify the nature of the language-identity relation by showing that confidence using English plays an important role in the process of identity change. Such findings could help programmers and teachers to better orient language programs to develop not only immigrants’ oral English skills but also their confidence in using the language across diverse social interactions, and thereby facilitating newcomers’ social psychological integration into their new home.