Stress is commonly conceptualized as an altered state of an organism produced by agents in the psycho-social, social, cultural, and/or physical environment. It is assumed that this altered state, when unmitigated, produces deleterious physical and/or mental health effects for certain individuals (Sowder, 1985).
According to Sowder (1985), Warheit in 1979 formulated a model that encompasses the systematic relationship among life events, coping resources, stress, and stress outcomes. According to him, stressful events can arise from the following sources: the individual’s biological constitution, the individual’s psycho-social characteristics, the culture, the social structure (including interpersonal relationships), and the geophysical environment. Stress responses to those events involve a dynamic, synergetic interaction of elements that include the characteristics of the event or events, the idiosyncratic qualities of the individual, and his/her personal, social, and cultural responses.
The adaptive screens in the model represent the coping resources available to individuals as they attempt to meet the demands placed on them by life events. These resources are: the individual’s unique biological and psychological constitutions, social and economic resources, familial and other interpersonal relationships, and the other secondary organizations provided by society and culture.
Following Warheit’s model, when a crisis event occurs (change of country, change of living, working, and/or school habits), the individual’s first line of defense is his/her idiosyncratic characteristics (psycho-social, physical, and genetic make up). When an individual’s resources are inadequate to deal with the demands occasioned by an event, it is hypothesized that the individual turns to extended sources of support such as family, friends, community social services, and the like. If all these resources prove to be inadequate, individuals may turn to culturally provided religious beliefs, values, and symbols for comfort, support, and resolution.
Born (1970) suggested that stress or pressure often arises for individuals during the acculturative process because of conflict between the individual’s culture of origin and the dominant culture. He has termed this reaction acculturative stress and has hypothesized that various coping responses are likely to be developed by the individual in his or her attempts to manage its effects.
Similarly, Berry and Annis (1974) described acculturation as a reactive adaptation to environmental crises between the two cultures. According to these authors, acculturative stresses vary as a function of (a) the degree of divergence between traditional cultural behaviors and behaviors that characterize the host community, and (b) the intensity of the pressure to acculturate in that community.
Years later, Williams and Berry (1991) provide a detailed model of acculturative stress to conceptualize its impact on refugee populations. They suggested that acculturative stress is a function of an individual’s acculturation experience and the nature and number of stressors he or she encounters, and that a number of factors such as mode of acculturation, phase of acculturation, nature of larger society, characteristics of the acculturation group, and characteristics of the acculturating individual moderate the relationships between acculturation experience and potential stressors, as well as the relationship between those stressors and perceived acculturative stress.
According to this model, the acculturative stress varies at the individual level. For example, individuals who have attained an independent cognitive style of interaction with others as well as with their environment would be less susceptible to the stress of sociocultural change. Acculturative stress among the immigrant Hispanic community has been widely researched and documented (Mena, Padilla, & Maldonado, 1987) with most of the studies arriving at the conclusion that this form of stress is common but not inevitable.
In conclusion, the degree of stress associated with acculturation could be a function of the number, frequency, intensity, duration, and priority of the demands placed on the individual in relation to the various coping resources he/she may turn to.
(*) This article is based on the Chapter II of the Quaalitative Study of the Acculturative Process followed by Immigrant Hispanic Parents. Marquez (2000). Doctoral Dissertation.