Cross Cultural Adaptation Theory (CCA)

History and Evolution
  • From the start of the 20th century CCA has extensively been researched in the United States, being that it is a nation from the start that throughout history has been dealing with large and continuing groups of immigrants. Various thoughts and questions have been going on for years in topics surrounding CCA, Robert E. Park was one of the first to develop the theory of assimilation and pertaining it to immigrants in the US in the early 1900’s.
  • Park developed the four steps that every immigrant goes through when transitioning into a different culture. First is contact, second is competition, third is accommodation and lastly is the immigrant learns to assimilate.
  • Professor Young Yun Kim is the leading researcher now in the subject. She had been interested in this theory by a personal interest in understanding the adaptive struggle and success she had coming from Korea to the US. Since then she has done original studies among other immigrants, refugees, and ethnic minorities in the United States, including Japanese, Mexicans, and Southeast Asians, as well as American Indians. She has done a two-year study of Indochinese refugees (1978-1980) in Illinois. Prof. Kim has also collaborated in publications with a number of doctoral theses investigating cross-cultural adaptation in several different cultural contexts.

Cross Cultural Adaptation
  • Individuals are open systems that must adapt to larger environments, and they do so by a cybernetic process in which inputs from the larger system are transformed into actions that lead to change
  • Change happens incrementally through a back and forth movement within a stress adaptation dialect
  • Occurs among groups that enter a host culture initially as strangers and are to some extent dependent on the larger host culture
  • The immigrant group maintains some level of communication with the larger community, but also with its own cultural group


  • What we know is that the term cross-cultural adaptation is about the process an individual gets an increasing level of the communication skills from the host culture and of relational development with host nationals. Put more simply, it is the transformation of a person’s own way of thinking and ideas into those of the host culture. A number of different people may be subject to cross-cultural adaptation, this includes immigrants, refugees, business people, diplomats, foreign workers and students. Sojourners is a specific group of individuals that generally spend a few years in another culture and intend to return back to their home country. Business people, diplomats, students, and foreign workers can all be classified as sojourners.


  • The idea of CCA is not intended to change ideas about being a foreigner; rather, it is intended to represent the multidimensional, multifaceted, and dynamic nature of the cross-cultural adaptation phenomenon. It seeks to achieve a balance between the two distinct common goals of social science: understanding and prediction. Understanding is sought through a comprehensive description of the nature of cross-cultural adaptation that maximally corresponds to the actual experience of the stranger.


  • Theorists like Robert E Park and Young Yun Kim were interested in studying this theory because of the world around them. During Robert Park's time the US was changing with huge influxes of immigrants. Young Yun Kim herself was an immigrant. This fueled her interested and integrity to do research and collect information on the subject.

Concepts, Explanations, Principles
  • Adaptation as a Natural and Universal Phenomenon
    • The theory of integrative communication rests on the human instinct to struggle for equilibrium when met with adversarial environmental conditions as experienced in a new culture.
  • Adaptation as an All-Encompassing Phenomenon
  • Explained cross-cultural adaptation as a multi-staged process. The theory focuses on the unitary nature of psychological and social processes and the reciprocal functional personal environment interdependence.
  • Adaptation as a Communication-Based Phenomenon
    • A person begins to adapt only as they communicate with others in their new environment. Integration relies on that interaction with the host society and the degree to which an individual adapts depends on the amount and nature of communication with members of the host society.
  • Theory as a System of Description and Explanation
    • The present theory is designed to identify the patterns that are commonly present within a clearly defined set of individual cases and to translate these patterns into a set of generalized and interrelated statements. The fact that humans will adapt in a new environment was not questioned, but rather how and why individuals adapt.
  • Theorizing at the Interface of Deduction and Induction
    • Deductive and inductive processes – between the conceptual realm of logical development of ideas from a set of basic assumptions about human adaptation and empirical substantiation of the ideas based on proofs available in social science literature.
  • Focal Concepts and Boundary Conditions
    • Adaptation and Stranger. Stranger incorporates in it all individuals who enter and resettle in a new cultural or sub-cultural environment.

Nomothetic or Practical?
  • With emphasis on generalizations, cultural adaptation theory is practical though its origins, and fits in with American social science. Additionally the theory seeks nomothetic lawlike generalizations and shunning Democratic knowledge.
  • Generalizations may be made across individuals as the only practical way to produce knowledge predictive of communication behaviors. While the existence of millions of people precludes the possibility of studying them all, there are far fewer cultures than people; thus social science's nomothetic assumptions cannot be justified solely on the basis of practicality when applied to the study of intercultural communication.

Craig's 7 Traditions

1. the semiotic- This concept generally deals with signs and symbols. In relation to Cross-Cultural Adaptation theory, we can look at one aspect of the semiotic traditions: syntactics, which is “the study of relationships among signs” (p 46)
2. the phenomenological- Is the way in which people learn how to understand our world from life’s experiences. Each of us has our own perception of phenomena, be it an object, event, or condition. Our theory looks at that in the way the individuals learn to understand a new culture that they are being absorbed in.
3. the cybernetic- deals with how complex systems work together. This includes processes that are biological, social, physical, and behavioral. The tradition looks closely at the variables and what shapes the system. In Cross Cultural Adaptation Theory, individuals coming into a new culture meet all of those processes. As the immigrant spends time in the new environment, they begin to comprehend the variables (and how to fit into) this new place. Once a newcomer has an understanding of the balance of the systems, they can be submerged, while still feeling the balance.
4. the Sociopsychological- This tradition puts a strong focus on persuasion and attitude change—essentially, message processing. It considers factors such as motivation, selection, planning and retention. When an individual is new to a culture, they will see how others are acting, and adapt to fit that “acceptable” social model.
5. the sociocultural- The tendency is to identify with social groups. For example, I am a student—part of a larger community. It identifies the individual with roles, rules, and cultural values. In Cross Cultural Adaptation Theory, this is vital because the newcomer is learning what the roles, rules and cultural values are of the new culture.
6. the critical- understand power structures, beliefs—Individuals who are new to a culture need to learn who “can” say what, and who can not, as well as what content is socially acceptable. When I say “can”, what I mean is what is appropriate.
7. the rhetorical- all the ways humans use symbols to affect those around them. A key point is Cicero’s 5 cannons of Rhetoric. They are invention, arrangement, style, delivery, and memory. If someone is new to a particular culture, understanding the way the people in that culture use symbols to affect others is vital. If an individual can not learn to do this, it will be difficult for messages to get across.

"Good Theory" : Validity of Cross Cultural Adaptation Theory
There are three aspects that tell us if a theory is valid. (1) Value deals with the worth of the theory. CCAT is worthy because it helps explain the manner in which a person adapts to fit into a new culture. (2) Correspondence is whether or not this theory can be observed. If you were to interview an immigrant in the beginning, and observe their interactions with those in the new culture over time, you would be able to see the adaptation. (3) Generalizability refers to the theoretical scope. Can this be applied to immigration in general or merely specific events? Because it can be used to explain any situation in which a newcomer adapts to the new culture, it can be generalized.
Young Yun Kim is a scholar who has tested this theory. In 2000 she put out a book called Becoming Intercultural that focused on immigrants and refugees and their adaptation as they crossed cultural boundaries Her ideas confirmed and even extended the theories research. She is considered a key person in the theory.

Exemplar Research:
  • Facets and dimensions of cross-cultural adaptation: refining the tools
  • Abstract
  • Purpose – The management literature on cross-cultural adaptation has used a conceptualisation and measurement approach developed by Black and Stephens. Their work has led to significant development in the field. Now it is time to move beyond and use a more refined tool. This paper proposes such a tool and compares its characteristics with those of the older instrument.
  • Design/methodology/approach – The paper is based on a sample of 204 expatriates, who were surveyed using the older and the proposed instrument. It uses confirmatory factor analysis to compare the two instruments. Independent variables include cultural difference and language skills.
  • Findings – This study demonstrates that a more refined measurement of adaptation outcomes, which distinguishes cognitive and affective factors and four non-work facets, is superior to measurement based on the older instrument. The new scale also provides a case for the improvement of cross-cultural adaptation theory.
  • Research limitations/implications – The paper is based on a cross-sectional sample and sample size is relatively small for confirmatory factor analysis. Additional research is necessary to corroborate the evidence presented here about the superiority of the proposed measure. The paper provides researchers with a new tool for use in cross-cultural adaptation studies.
  • Originality/value – The paper describes a new, empirically developed measurement tool for cross-cultural adaptation.

Cultivation Theory: (Similar to cross cultural adaptation theory)
  • George Gerbner and his associates developed the cultivation theory. This is the idea that television is so persuasive in our culture that it “cultivates” certain views across all segments of society. Researchers believe that television is a homogenizing agent that cultivates a common culture.
  • Cultivation analysis is concerned with the totality of the pattern communicated cumulatively by television over a long period of exposure rather than by any particular content or specific effect. In other words, this is not a theory of individual media “effects.” Total immersion in television, not selective viewing, is important in the cultivation of ways of knowing and images of reality. Indeed, subcultures may retain their separate values, but general overriding images depicted on television will cut across individual social groups and subcultures, affecting them all.
  • As you might imagine, the theory predicts a difference in the social reality of heavy television viewers as opposed to light viewers. Heavy viewers tend to believe in a reality that is consistent with that shown on television, even though television does not necessarily reflect the actual world. Gerbner’s research on prime-time television, for example, has shown that there are three men to every woman on television; there are few Hispanics-and those shown are typically minor characters; there are almost entirely middle class characters; and there are three times as many law enforcement officers as blue-collar workers.
  • One of the most interesting aspects of cultivation theory is the “mean-world syndrome.” Although less than 1 percent of the population are victims of violent crimes in any one year period, heavy exposure to violent crimes through television can lead to the belief that no one can be trusted in what appears to be a violent world.
  • A second part of this study is sought to determine the effect of television violence on viewers. Signorielli surveyed people on five occasions between 1980 and 1986 regarding their views on the state of the world. The findings indicate that heavy viewers tend to see the world as gloomier and meaner than do light viewers, and heavy viewers tend to mistrust people more than light viewers do. Cultivation studies such as Signorelli’s have found, then, that there is a general fallout effect from television to the entire culture. Television is not a force for change as much as it is a source for stability and uniformity.
  • Gerbner and his colleagues refer to this homogenizing effect as mainstreaming. It is the tendency of groups that watch television heavily to become more similar to one another than might otherwise be the case. Television draws people closer to a “mainstream” reality as depicted in the medium. Groups will maintain different opinions on issues, but the difference will become smaller among those who share heavy viewing. For example, both liberals and conservatives who are heavy viewers will tend to move toward the middle of the political spectrum than will those who watch fewer hours of television.
Current State
  • Immigration is representative of the start of cultural adaptation theory.
  1. When immigrating to a new country, you must leave the majority of your cultural practice back in your originating country.
  2. When settling in a new country, it takes time to adjust to the new way of life and get into the rhythm of things.
  3. With both of these together you have a mutual cultural adaptation occuring.
  • Studying Abroad is relative to the same experiences when expressed through cultural means.
  1. Changing countries, living somewhere for a semester or longer.
  2. Moving in with a family/living in a dorm that has one/two languages.
  3. Collectively placing yourself in an environment other than your own causes cultural adaptation.
Future State
  • For over a decade researchers have been developing the cross-cultural adaption theory (CCA). As stated earlier, CCA entails moving from one culture to another culture, and learning the rules, norms, customs, and language of the new culture. This theory deals with how a person is affected when in a culture different from the one they originated from. Although a lot of extensive research has been found on CCA, as new technologies evolve, this theory needs to evolve as well. Now that we have discussed the history and aspects found in this theory, we must discuss the future of this theory.
  • Past research has concluded that CCA is the dynamic socialization process, in which individuals interact with a new environment. Ward and colleagues divided outcomes of this theory in two domains. These domains include psychological adaption, which relates to the individuals emotions and overall well being, and socialcultural adaption which relates to the individuals behavior in the new cultural. With these two domains researchers have been able to identify how individuals communicate in a new cultural.
  • Dr. Young Yun Kim, a professor at the University of Oklahoma has spent her career furthering this theory. Dr. Kim has found that as communication technologies and globalization of the economy advances, CCA has become a social and cultural phenomenon. Past research has concluded that media plays an important role in CCA. With new technologies such as the internet, individuals have the advantage of being able to interact with different cultures. Relating cross-cultural adaption theory to the internet can help focus on how individuals actively use media to fulfill personal needs, and to see individuals cultural differences. Cultural context of media is often overlooked, explaining why Dr. Kim found it necessary to understand CCA’s affect on media. Her current study relates to how English competence, length of stay, acculturation attitudes, loneliness magnitude, internet motives, and internet use predicts sociocultural adaption and psychological adaption. Social Medias such as facebook, twitter, and skype, have developed new approaches on interacting with different cultures all over the world. Therefore future research on relating the cross-culture adaptation theory to the internet is needed to understand how technologies affect this theory.
  • According to Dr. Kim, out of all CCA constructs from predisposition characteristics to environmental conditions, some constructs have been under-investigated, while others have been investigated more extensively. The most neglected construct is intercultural identity, which relates to the movement toward a more complex sense of self. More research is needed on the way individuals combine their multiple identities as they struggle to move beyond narrow-minded beliefs of the new culture. Further research on multiple identities will show how individuals react differently in certain situations, which in-return affects the way they develop their more complex sense of self.
  • Intensive research is needed concerning three conditions that take place in the new culture. These under-investigated constructs include, host receptivity which is how welcoming the host community is, host conformity pressure, which is the expectations of the host community for adaptation and finally, ethnic group strength, which is the encouragement the individual receives from his or her own ethnic group. Future studies on how these environmental factors influence an individual’s personal and social communication patterns is needed in order to help elaborate the present theory. According to Dr. Kim, if we can develop a stronger understanding of the relationship between host receptivity and host conformity pressure, and the affects that the ethnic group strength has on them, then further research can help explain how these factors affect an individual’s communication behaviors and their transformation into a new culture.
  • In order to strengthen the cross-cultural adaptation theory, future research is needed to understand how this theory is affected by new technologies, how an individual’s multiple identities affect the development of their more complex sense of self, and how environmental factors affect an individual’s communication behaviors and transformation.

Value of Theory

  • Intercultural communication is a form of global communication, in that it studies the wide range of communication problems that naturally occur when individuals of different cultures interact. Intercultural communication was developed to understand how people from different countries and cultures communicate, behave, and perceive the world around them.
  • The Cross-Cultural Adaptation Theory holds high value for understanding Intercultural Communication, because it studies how an individual is affected when in a culture different from they originated. This theory is an in-depth study at how an individual communicates, behaves, and develops their identity in a new culture. CCA helps Intercultural Communication gain a stronger understanding of how an individual reacts behaves and transforms when their culture is crossed over with another.

Kim, Y. (2009, May 20). Internet Use And Cross-Cultural Adaptation. Retrieved April 22, 2011, from
Kim, Y. (2001). Becoming Intercultural:. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications Inc.

Haslberger, A. (n.d.). Facets and Dimensions of Cross-Cultural Adaptation: Refining the Tools. Dimensions of Cross-Cultural Adaptation//. Retrieved April 27, 2011, from$file/facetsanddimensionshaslberger.pdf