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Migrating Identities


Migrating Identities

The Perceiving Functions and Cultural Adaptation

Abby Chow and Debbie Clelland, October 4, 2017

Gris, 1926, The readerHow can the helping professions assist immigrants who are struggling to adapt to their new cultural environment? What constitutes successful adaptation? Accounts of thoughts regarding acculturation date back to 2370 B.C. E., when policies were inscribed to limit acculturation in an effort to maintain cultural traditions (Gadd, 1971). Today, adapting to a new culture still poses significant challenges. The landscape of acculturation literature has moved from the uni-dimensional conceptualization that theorizes successful adaptation as the loss of heritage identification in favor of the mainstream culture, to the bi-dimensional conceptualization that theorizes successful adaptation as maintaining identification with both the heritage and mainstream identities (Berry, Phinney, Sam, & Vedder, 2006).

With a view to deepening practitioners’ understanding of the processes that may be experienced by acculturating clients, the authors conducted a study to find the relationship between personality type and identity integration in acculturation. This study employs Jungian personality theory to investigate how each theoretical model reflects and impacts actual people who are facing the challenges of acculturation. In this article, the term “practitioners” includes all helping professionals who help acculturating clients better adjust to their new cultural environment. We conducted this study because the research so far does not give a clear idea of how to help clients through the acculturation process. We found that understanding individual differences in personality as they relate to identity integration can contribute to the therapeutic process for practitioners working with the acculturating population.

Current models for working therapeutically with acculturating persons, such as the Cross-Cultural Assessment Model, emphasize the importance of cultural context, the individual’s life phase, life stage, and personality style (Dieser, 2014). However, studies of individual differences and their contribution to the process of acculturation (e.g., Sam & Berry, 2010; Yoon et al., 2013) have provided inconclusive results due to the complex nature of personality and acculturation, both in concept and in the measurements that assess them (Sam & Berry, 2010; Zane & Mac, 2003). For example, acculturation has been assessed with measures that use behavioral, value, and identity indicators (Sam & Berry, 2010), while personality has been assessed with measures that use the Big Five trait approach and cognitive processes such as locus of control as indicators (Yoon et al., 2013). In other words, personality styles have commonly been assessed on the basis of behavioral tendencies. For example, Dieser (2014) proposed questions that examine the activities, environments, and interests chosen, and the preferred way of socializing as well as the preferred process of decision-making. When asking questions about decision-making, Dieser referred to the speed of and caution used for decision-making.

While these questions are valid, we decided to focus on personality types rather than personality traits to study the role of identity integration in the acculturation process. Specifically, we found it important to consider the perceiving functions in understanding individual differences in acculturation: That is, how do acculturating individuals process the new information they encounter in a new environment? To address this question, we consulted personality type theory as measured by the Majors Personality Type Inventory (MajorsPTI), and the Cognitive Developmental Model of Social Identity Integration (CDMSII; Amiot, de la Sabionnière, Terry, & Smith, 2007) as measured by the Multicultural Identity Integration Scale (MULTIIS; Yampolsky, Amiot, & de le Sabionnière, 2016). Due to the small sample size of the study, n=60, we restricted the analysis to the eight preferences within the four dichotomies of Jungian personality type, as opposed to analyzing the eight functions (Chow, 2017).

Matisse, 1909, Woman in green with a carnationThe CDMSII defines four stages, or identity configurations, that acculturating persons experience when integrating multiple cultural identities into a coherent self-concept (Amiot et al., 2007). It suggests that this coherent self-concept spans across different social contexts and leads to successful adaptation (Amiot et al., 2007; de la Sabionnière et al., 2016; Yampolsky, Amiot, & de la Sabionnière, 2013). It focuses on identity-based indicators of the acculturation process, which the authors define as identity integration. The four stages of identity configuration proposed include anticipatory categorization, categorization, compartmentalization, and integration (Amiot et al., 2007).

Anticipatory categorization is a self-anchoring process that occurs when the acculturating person expects that change will occur (Amiot et al., 2007). In this process, individuals prepare for change by anticipating the similarities between themselves and the new cultural group (Amiot et al., 2007). When acculturating persons actually experience the new cultural group, this process is replaced by the experience of distinctive differences between themselves and this cultural group (Amiot et al., 2007). This is the cognitive process associated with the categorization stage. In this stage, the acculturating persons may begin to identify more exclusively with their heritage culture, seeing the new culture as a culture fundamentally conflicting with their own (Amiot et al., 2007). Through continual contact with the new cultural group, the acculturating persons begin to recognize that they also hold similarities with the new group and begin the cognitive processes associated with the compartmentalization stage (Amiot et al., 2007).

Degas, 1898, Three DancersAlthough acculturating persons now realize they can hold more than one social identity, they nevertheless perceive the differences between identities as conflicting with one another (Amiot et al., 2007). Psychologically, the acculturating persons may manage these conflicts by restraining their identification with each of the cultural groups and identify with each one separately, depending on the social contexts that they are in (Amiot et al., 2007). As the acculturating persons continue to live life, they begin to perceive similarities between the previously conflicting identities, signaling the beginning of the integration stage (Amiot et al., 2007). The integration stage is the final stage of the CDMSII (Amiot et al., 2007). The cognitive process associated with the integration stage allows the individual to create a complex, coherent self-identity that remains stable over varying social contexts. The integration stage is also the only identity configuration that is consistently associated with well-being (Amiot et al., 2007; Yampolsky et al., 2016).

The purpose of the study was to determine if there is a relationship present between Jungian personality type and the process of identity integration in first-generation, acculturating persons who have immigrated to Canada from non-western cultures. Participants were individuals who have immigrated to Canada as citizens, permanent residents, or temporary residents (n = 60; Chow, 2017). The focus on non-western cultures follows an important historical pattern of immigration from non-western to western cultural areas of the world (Schwartz, Unger, Zamboanga, & Szapocznick, 2010). To assess the stages of the CDMSII, we employed the MULTIIS (Yampolsky et al., 2016), which was designed to measure all stages of the CDMSII with the exception of the anticipatory categorization stage. The anticipatory categorization stage was excluded because the scale was developed with a population that has already been in contact with mainstream culture (Yampolsky et al., 2016). To adapt the MULTIIS to study bidimensional analysis, we duplicated the MULTIIS categorization scale to create a categorization to mainstream culture scale and a categorization to heritage culture scale, as instructed by M. A. Yampolsky (personal communication, June 30, 2016; Chow, 2017). We then correlated these scales with the results for extraversion, introversion, intuition, sensing, thinking, feeling, judging, and perceiving as measured by the MajorsPTI (Chow, 2017).

When correlating the stages, or identity configurations, of the adapted MULTIIS––categorization to mainstream, categorization to heritage, compartmentalization, and integration––with personality type preference results from the MajorsPTI, we found a significant correlation (p = 0.05) between the integration scale of the MULTIIS and the sensing-intuition dichotomy. Specifically, a preference for intuition, as opposed to a preference for sensing, accounts for 25% of the variance in scores of the integration scale of the MULTIIS (Chow, 2017). In light of these results, it may be that the processes of identity integration particularly draw on the function of intuition. An implication that merits further consideration is that those who prefer intuition tend to find the use of intuition easier, and may therefore find the process of integration an easier one. With intuition defined as a perceiving function that is strongly based in abstractions, possibilities, and relationships (Briggs-Myers, McCaulley, Quenk, & Hammer, 1998), it is possible that the nature of intuition is more aligned with the cognitive resources needed for integration (Briggs-Myers et al., 1998; Chow, 2017).

Munch, Children in the streetAccording to Amiot et al. (2007), the integration stage requires the acculturating individual to abstractly expand the characteristics of each identity and subsequently establish salient patterns between these expansions. For example, acculturating individuals with Chinese and Canadian cultural identities may expand their understanding of each identity in order to then reconcile them. For example, individuals may come to identify with the superordinate identity of being human by drawing on their experience of the Chinese Canadian community they are now a part of, coming to believe that the coexistence of both identities is possible, understanding that part of being human is to adapt to and appreciate how variety contributes to individual uniqueness, and believing that each identity consolidates valuably into their ability to adapt to different life situations (Amiot et al., 2007).

Van Gogh, 1888, Still life: Vase with fifteen sunflowersThe association found in the study between intuition and integration raises the further question as to whether those who prefer intuition are actually more successful at acculturation. For example, does the difference between sensing and intuition in regard to integrating concepts in general, as well as the difference between sensing and intuition in regard to its willingness to embrace new things and enjoy change, affect an individual’s acculturation process? To address these questions, we inquired into what underlies the constructs of the sensing-intuition dichotomy and integration so that practitioners might apply these results in devising strategies to assist a client’s adaptation.

Perhaps the most salient difference between those who prefer intuition versus those who prefer sensing is their respective approach to change (Barger & Kirby, 2004; Geyer, 1995; Jessup, 2002; Kummerow & Quenk, 2003; Pearman, 1999; Quenk, Hammer, & Majors, 2001). A preference for intuition tends to be associated with an intrinsic valuing of change—“change for change’s sake.” For intuitives, change can be a thrilling undertaking. Contrasting this perspective is the sensing type’s preference for practicality. A preference for sensing tends to be associated with a step-by-step process to change that is anchored in what is known, as well as what is necessary and practical. If acculturation is viewed as a process of change, the positive orientation of intuition towards change may suggest that intuitive individuals possess a greater propensity for reconciling different cultural identities. This is not to say that those with a preference for sensing are unable to reconcile different cultural identities. Given that all individuals are able to use all functions, it is possible that those with a preference for sensing simply need to be presented with a practical reason to undertake the reconciliation of cultural identities. Although further research is needed to establish the validity of these findings, it does give some insight into how practitioners may be able to use personality type and, in particular, the sensing-intuition dichotomy to better support the acculturating population.

Picasso, 1921, Reading.For example, those with a preference for intuition may have a tendency to perceive the possibilities associated with new information, while those with a preference for sensing may have a tendency to perceive concrete characteristics of and the practical applications associated with the new information. So when presented with new information about a new culture, those with a preference for intuition may be driven to explore the potential opportunities available for developing their self-identity, while those with a preference for sensing may see the new information as distinct pieces that do not require reconciliation unless practical rationales for reconciliation are also perceived (Dunn, 1985; Holsworth, 1985, Leonard, Scholl, & Kowalski, 1999). Specifically, do individuals who prefer sensing and intuition integrate their cultural identities differently? For example, are individuals who prefer sensing simply more comfortable with other identity configurations, such as compartmentalization, using a working self-concept that has worked in the past to adapt depending on the situation (Kummerow & Quenk, 2003; Markus & Wurf, 1987; Onorato & Turner, 2001, 2004)? Or do individuals who prefer sensing need to use their less preferred function of intuition to integrate their cultural identities? These questions are important to consider when working with acculturating persons, and further research is required to validate these possibilities.

Future research may provide more insight into these questions of how a preference for sensing may influence the avenue for identity integration in acculturating persons and to working with the acculturating population. Practitioners must be aware of other factors that affect the acculturation process, beyond a preference for sensing or intuition, such as systemic oppression, perceived discrimination, and language barriers. Practitioners should be aware that acculturative distress may stem not only from struggles associated with identifying with mainstream culture but also from a possible devaluation of acculturating persons’ heritage culture when integrating a new cultural identity into their self-concept (de la Sabionnière et al., 2016). Additionally, although the integration identity configuration has been demonstrated to be more likely associated with well-being (Amiot et al., 2007; Yampolksy et al., 2013, 2016), individual differences exist, and one identity configuration should not be recommended over another (Yampolsky et al., 2013). That is, other identity configurations may not be accessible or possible when considering the societal environment (de la Sabionnière et al., 2016; Taylor & Kachanoff, 2015).

Our study suggests that helping clients understand how they process information may open up possible interventions that further the adaptation process. This understanding could be particularly influential if clients are experiencing stress from the acculturation process. For example, Kendall (1996) found that there were substantial differences between the sixteen types and their needs in the acculturation process. In consolidating these patterns, she stressed the importance of further understanding to address individual concerns in a more client-oriented manner (Kendall, 1996). Additionally, the clients’ level of agency in the acculturation process may affect their level of adaptation, regardless of the configuration that is currently in use (Yampolsky et al., 2013). Thus, helping clients consciously work through their process of identity integration may assist them in recognizing a greater level of agency throughout the process and facilitate the recognition of greater success in adaptation.

Marc, 1911, The steerDepending on the clients’ assessment of their acculturative experience (Dieser, 2014), assessment of whether their environment promotes or inhibits integration (de la Sabionnière et al., 2016; Taylor & Kachanoff, 2015; Yampolsky et al., 2016), and their preference for intuition or sensing (Kendall, 1996; Kummerow & Quenk, 2003; Myers, Kirby, & Myers, 1998), certain interventions may be helpful. That is, people with a preference for sensing could perhaps be more impacted by the lack of cultural information needed for identity integration or could be more impacted by the effects of discrimination and oppression in regards to their belief that both cultural identities can coexist within the self. For example, the clarity of cultural identities needed for identity integration may be an influential factor for acculturating clients. Taylor and Kachanoff (2015) used the analogy of fitting together puzzle pieces to describe the process of identity integration. It is possible that clients with a preference for sensing may be more impacted by the struggles associated with gathering the cultural clarity needed for identity integration. As those with a preference for sensing tend to prefer a detailed-oriented, step-by-step approach to change, they may prefer to acquire greater clarity for each individual cultural identity before beginning to reconcile these identities. In light of this, assisting sensing type clients in delineating at the outset how they understand and define each cultural identity may be more consonant with the natural strengths of their preference. For example, practitioners may want to assist clients in exploring other sources of information about a particular cultural identity, such as family members or cultural texts, especially if societal forces of cultural oppression have rendered the cultural identity unclear.

De Souza-Cardoso, 1917, EntradaAlthough clients with a preference for intuition may find the process of identity integration easier, they may still experience stress from the acculturation process. Indeed, societal factors such as oppression may inhibit the possibility of reaching the integration stage of identity integration. In this case, other identity configurations, such as compartmentalization, may be more adaptable in mitigating stress (Yampolsky et al., 2013): during the compartmentalization stage, acculturating persons acknowledge their identification with multiple cultural identities, while yet remaining identified with each culture separately (Amiot et al., 2007). In order to successfully identify with each of their cultural identities, individuals require a thorough understanding of these cultural identities (Markus & Wurf, 1987; Onorato & Turner, 2001, 2004). A discussion therefore regarding the pertinent differences and similarities between cultural identities may provide this understanding. For example, a practitioner may be able to assist those who prefer intuition in keeping track of cultural details and in noticing what needs further attention (Myers et al., 1998).

Gauguin, 1892, Landscape with peacocksIf integrating different cultural identities remains the client’s goal, practitioners may also want to engage intuitive clients in exploring the imaginative, theoretical possibilities associated with reconciling cultural identities and the abstract associations between cultural identities. For example, a practitioner may facilitate clients in engaging with creative interventions such as recreating themselves as vigilante characters through art, envisioning each aspect of their identity as different articles of armor or weaponry, and then creatively combining these different articles of armor or weaponry to create signature, super-hero abilities for their character.

There exists a pressing need for a more complete understanding of how individual differences affect identity integration, as well as the wider acculturation process. In view of the marked and rapid expansion of transnational living and immigration, the pressure for cultural adaptation will only continue to grow. Consequently, the probability that practitioners will be working with individuals who are feeling distressed by the acculturation process will also increase. The findings of the present study suggest that understanding the relationship between the perceiving functions and identity integration, and applying that understanding, may also make an important contribution.


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Abby Chow

Abby Chow

Abby Chow, MA, is a practicing clinical counselor specializing in trauma and addictions at Venturous Counselling & Wellness, in Vancouver, Canada. She has facilitated therapeutic interventions for individuals suffering from anxiety, depression, sexual assault, domestic violence, complex trauma, and grief or loss. She also serves as a victim services coordinator for the Chinese Community Policing Centre. She got her master's in Counselling Psychology from Adler University, and has been a type enthusiast since her quest for personal discovery and career guidance led her to Jungian type.

Debbie Clelland

Debbie Clelland

Debbie Clelland, Ph.D., Registered Clinical Counsellor, has been working in the field of counselling and consulting since 1998, teaching counselling students since 2006, and is a local expert on giftedness. These passions are now being extended into her part-time practice through coaching gifted adults and parents of gifted children, as well as supporting counsellors through clinical consultations. Debbie also continues to do consulting work with organizations who are building positive relationships among their team members, allowing for a more efficient and welcoming workplace.

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Comments (1)

Thanks for a great article by Abby Chow and Debbie Clelland. Great research, insights, and observations. The only thing I would push back on is that iNuitives are initially open to change if it’s moving the organization around to a new vision,a new way of doing things. But put an inTuitive in a mass of complicated process changes and see them flee quickly. We confuse minutia and detail for being “out in the weeds.” It’s boring. I want to push a button, have my password entered automatically, and dash on to the kind of change I’m comfortable with at 50,000 ft.

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