New Perspectives on Acculturation: the Relationship of General and Role Specific Acculturation With Hispanics' Consumer Attitudes

ABSTRACT - Two acculturation scales were derived and then compared in terms of their association with Hispanic consumers' attitudes as well as their exposure to and perceptions of Spanish language television commercials. One scale represented a measure of general acculturation while the other was more situation specific. This allowed for a more complete explication of the concept of acculturation and demonstrates the need for more specific consumer oriented acculturation measures.


Thomas C. O'Guinn and Ronald J. Faber (1985) ,"New Perspectives on Acculturation: the Relationship of General and Role Specific Acculturation With Hispanics' Consumer Attitudes", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 12, eds. Elizabeth C. Hirschman and Moris B. Holbrook, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 113-117.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 12, 1985      Pages 113-117


Thomas C. O'Guinn, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Ronald J. Faber, University of Texas at Austin


Two acculturation scales were derived and then compared in terms of their association with Hispanic consumers' attitudes as well as their exposure to and perceptions of Spanish language television commercials. One scale represented a measure of general acculturation while the other was more situation specific. This allowed for a more complete explication of the concept of acculturation and demonstrates the need for more specific consumer oriented acculturation measures.

The rapidly expanding Hispanic population of the United States has spawned new interest and research activity in the area of ethnic marketing, segmentation, and intercultural analysis. Research in this area has begun to delineate differences in Anglo and Hispanic buying behaviors (Wallendorf and Reilly 1983; Deshpande and Hoyer 1982). Additionally, differences in cultural values are beginning to be recognized as important in developing advertising and promotional strategies to the Hispanic market (Helming 1983; O'Guinn and Meyer 1983). These studies have encouraged marketers to view Hispanics (or various Hispanic nationalities) as a distinct subculture. However, whenever immigrants remain in a new country, sooner or later they begin to understand and then adopt at least some of the norms, values and behaviors of the host culture, and some of the initial differences begin to blur. This process is known as acculturation.

Tile extent to which, and the manner in which this acculturation process is articulated in buyer behavioral terms should be of considerable interest to marketing and advertising researchers in the future, and suggests some very interesting questions. For instance, in the years to come, will Hispanics be considered a distinct subcultural segment of the U.S. market with significantly different consumption patterns and decision processes, or will they be indistinguishable from other consumers of similar socioeconomic levels? Will there be two classes of Hispanics, those who enter the cultural mainstream, and those who do not? As some Hispanics become more acculturated will their buyer behavior differ significantly from those less acculturated? Will more acculturated Hispanics have consumer patterns that are exactly the same as Anglos or will they emerge as a group uniquely and qualitatively different from both Anglos and less acculturated Hispanics? Without some measure of acculturation, empirical investigation of such questions will be near impossible. In order to embark on a program of research to address these questions, an initial step must explicate the concept of acculturation with special attention to its relationship to consumer behavior.

It is not easy task to determine just how Hispanic, or Americanized an individual or a population is. Self report measures are suspect insofar as the response may depend almost entirely upon who is asking the question, and the context in which it is asked (Allen 1975). Yet, more indirect and unobtrusive measures depend upon several assumptions, and may be plagued with a high risk of misinterpretation. Still, if empirical research in this area is to progress these problems must be confronted. This paper reports on the initial stages of an ongoing effort to empirically determine the underlying dimensions or acculturation and to develop an Hispanic acculturation scale which can be useful for explaining consumer behavior.


There exists no standardized method by which to define or assign level of acculturation. Many theorists have treated acculturation as the polar opposite of ethnicity. Immigrants have typically been viewed as either ethnically bound or acculturated with nothing in-between. Occasionally, authors have recognized the inadequacy of this viewpoint and have included a third "bicultural" category (Chang 1972). Kim (1979) however, has cogently pointed out the fallacy of these limited perspectives and has instead proposed viewing ethnicity and acculturation as anchor points along a continuum. An individual may then be perceived as being more or less acculturated at any given point in time.

While Kim's perspective is an important improvement over earlier conceptualizations, it too has limitations. Most importantly, it continues to view an individual on a linear continuum and at only one point of acculturation at a given time. We have previously proposed an alternative conceptualization of acculturation utilizing role theory in which individuals may be at different levels of acculturation for the different roles they assume (O'Guinn, Faber and Meyer 1984). Individuals are cast into a variety of different roles in the course of their daily lives. Each role may bring into play a different level of acculturation or ethnicity. For example, an individual may behave in accord with his or her ethnic norms when at home with other family members. For this individual, these ethnic values are what is expected in the parental or child role. However, this same individual may have learned and even adopted the cultural norms and behaviors of the host society in other roles e.g., work or school). In order to understand this individual's attitudes or behaviors in a given situation, we must recognize the level of acculturation being brought to that situation specific role. This more complex perspective of acculturation is necessary to more accurately understand and Predict human behavior.

Just as the conceptualization of acculturation has typically been created a: a simplistic level, so coo has its operationalization. Researchers have generally used just a single variable, or occasionally a few variables in a rather arbitrary manner when it comes to classifying someone as either more or less acculturated. These measures have usually stressed demographic variables such as urbanization, age, religious affiliation, language ability or preference, national origin, number of generations in the host country, and education (Murguia 1975; Lennon 1976). Research in this area has been predominately the work of sociologists. Buyer behaviorists have yet to explore the area to any significant degree.

The actual use of formalized acculturation scales has been even more rare. Only a few researchers have tried to determine the component dimensions of acculturation or to combine items presumed to be related to acculturation into a single scale. One recent attempt at scale construction came from Lennon (1976). Building upon the work or Campisi (1940) and Trutza (1956), Lennon constructed a single index or acculturation based upon sixteen traits and attitudes or Puerto Ricans living in the Chicago area. Each of these items was assigned a weight by an expert panel of fifty sociologists at Loyola University. Respondents' scores were then weighted and summed to yield a single index. This index was then shown to be related to several attitudinal and structural variables.

In recent years there has been a renewed interest in the use of communication variables in developing acculturation measures. While a recognition of the importance of communication variables dates back to at least the 1930's (Sapir 1931), most research ignored communication variables in favor of demographic characteristics in composing simplistic measures of acculturation. Communication variables should be highly related to acculturation since the process of becoming acculturated is by definition accomplished through communication. Interpersonal communication with members of the host society allows immigrants to experience and learn the behavioral norms of the new culture. Media presentations can also convey the values and norms of the society which created them (Lasswell 1948). Gerson (1966), for example, has shown this to work in regard to learning dating behaviors from television. Thus by using the mass media of the dominant culture, the minority group member can learn culturally appropriate norms and behaviors.

Efforts to relate communication variables to acculturation have been reasonably successful. Kim (1977), for example, found both interpersonal and mass media variables to be related to understanding the difference between ethnic and host society values and norms.

The few studies which have included communication variables along with demographic characteristics in their efforts to build acculturation indices have spurred the belief that acculturation is not a simple, unidimensional construct. Pierce, Clark and Kaufman (1972), using cluster analysis, found two separate dimensions of acculturation. Dunn (1975) factor analyzed a large number of medis use variables along with a few demographic characteristics from a Mexican-American sample and uncovered six separate factors involving such dimensions as "traditionalism," radio use and employment. Olmedo and Padilla (1978) developed an acculturation index and validated this index by comparing the scores of Anglos with those of first and third generation Mexican-Americans. A factor analysis of their scale items indicated that there were three orthogonal dimensions: nationality and language use; SES; and attitudes involving the potency ascribed to the terms "father" and "mother".

Most of these past efforts to develop an acculturation index have either included many demographic variables and just one or two communication variables, or they have used many communication items and just a couple of demographic ones. Additionally, they have all proceeded from the assumption that acculturation is a general measure which effects equally all components and roles in a minority group member's life. The current study was an attempt to continue the effort at uncovering the underlying dimension of general acculturation as well as to move beyond this view and determine if role specific acculturation can more accurately explain role specific values and behaviors than a general measure of acculturation.


The data used in this investigation were collected in Chicago, Illinois during the months of October through December, 1983. These data were collected via a mixed method procedure which used both random digit dialing and systematic selection of Spanish surnames from the Chicago telephone directory. Approximately 85% of the 208 Hispanic respondents were selected via the RDD method. This mixed method procedure has been suggested as being a preferred method for the collection of ethnic survey data (Himmelfarb, 1983). Data collection was bilingual and conducted by the Survey Research Laboratory of the University of Illinois. Chicago was selected because it has the sixth largest concentration of Hispanics among U.S. cities, and is the most heterogenous of any major Hispanic AD] with respect to the composition o, the Hispanic population by national origin (Guernica 1982).

This survey was quite extensive and collected information regarding many aspects of buyer behavior, as well as several measures specifically designed to indirectly assess level of acculturation. Among these were demographic measures, such as the national origin of the respondents, the respondents' parents, and their grandparents. These questions were included since the amount of time a family has been in a country is traditionally thought of as being related to acculturation (Olmedo and Padilla 1978).

One's physical and social environment may also be indicative of some sort of ethnic affiliation or empathy. To represent physical environment, the instrument asked respondents to estimate the percentage of Hispanics living in their neighborhood. Social environment was measured by items asking if the respondent belonged to any Hispanic social or business organizations.

The instrument gathered considerable information on communication preferences. While language preference has long been recognized as an important indicator of acculturation level, other communication variables have generally been ignored. This is, of course, due to the fact that so much of the work on assimilation predates the electronic media (especially non-English language programming), and the rise of specialty publications. Currently, however, all major Hispanic ADI's are served by at least one Spanish-language radio station, and usually at least one Spanish-language television station.

Rather than merely asking respondents which language they preferred in general, several additional items were made media and situation dependent. By relating language preference to situations we allowed for the possibility of discovering interesting relationships between situational roles and language preference. It was hoped that this might serve to provide a better understanding of acculturation in its natural context.

Respondents were asked which language they preferred (Spanish, both Spanish and English, English) when at home, when at work, when speaking, when reading, when watching television, listening to the radio, or when reading the newspaper. In the case of mass media sources, a distinction was also made between entertainment and news content. The version (Spanish or English) of the questionnaire the respondent chose was also coded and treated as an additional language preference measure.

All of these measures were considered in attempting to determine the underlying dimensions of acculturation. Two additional communication variables, language preference when shopping and when doing business were also assessed, but were used to form a separate consumer role specific acculturation measure rather than being used with the general acculturation index.

The final set of items included in this study were consumer related measures which were considered to be potentially related to acculturation level. These measures included the use of attitudes towards Spanish language commercials versus English language ones, and product attribute ratings for beer. Beer was chosen as the product of study since Hispanics' brand preferences differ sharply from Anglos (Guernica 1982) and because prior research indicated that different cultural groups each have unique attitudes and behaviors regarding the use of alcoholic beverages (Greely, McCready and Theisen 1980).

Additionally, Wallendorf and Reilly (1983), in a garbology study of ethnic difference, found that Mexican-Americans fall between Anglos and Mexicans in their consumption of beer, indicating a potential effect of acculturation.


The first analytical step in the acculturation scale construction effort was to factor analyze those items thought to be acculturation related. In this step 18 variables were entered into a principal components factor analysis for the purpose of discerning the critical underlying dimensions of acculturation, their relative importance, and the relative importance of the individual measures which comprise those factors. Since the factors were assumed to be correlated, an oblique rotation was employed.

This factor analysis produced three factors with eigen-values greater than 1.0.



Together these three factors accounted for 93.9 percent of variance, and clearly represented three very distinct dimensions of acculturation. Only variables with a factor pattern coefficient greater than .5 were selected for further use; all others were discarded. Five variables meeting this test comprised factor 1; four made up factor 2; and factor 3 had three variables. All five measures of factor 1 were measures of national origin. The items loading on factor 2 all represent a general language preference; while the three measures comprising factor 3 were demographic in nature.

The results of the factor analysis were then used to compute three scores, each representing a single factor. Standardized scores were calculated for each of the variables, in order to account for unequal scale sizes. The standardized scores for each variable were then added together to Yield a score for each factor.

At this point, the three components were combined. Although various weighting schemes were considered, equal weighting was selected. In the absence of any objective standards, and to be consistent with the developmental nature of this work, a rather simple procedure was felt to be most appropriate. It should also be noted that any variable with a negative factor pattern coefficient was reverse coded prior to actual scale construction. By adding these three scores together the general acculturation scale was produced.

The consumer acculturation scale was computed by adding the standardized scores of two measures. These two items were the language preferred for shopping and the language preferred in consumer situation specific roles.

The general acculturation scale and the consumer acculturation scale were found to be modestly correlated (r=.229 p<.001). The two scales were then tested for their association with several important buyer behavioral measures. These were attitudes toward Spanish language television commercials versus English language ones and attitudes toward product attributes of beer.

Pearson correlation coefficients were computed to determine the association between the two scales and the consumer related measures.



In terms of attitudes toward Spanish language television commercials, several interesting correlations were observed. Both scales were negatively correlated with a preference for Spanish language television, and with the belief that they are easier to understand. This, of course, indicates that more acculturated Hispanics do not need to rely as heavily on Spanish language commercials for product related information. Yet, interestingly enough, the correlation between the consumer acculturation scale and the belief that Spanish language commercials are more honest than English language ones is positive (r=. 17, p<.05). This may indicate that as Hispanics become more integrated into the cultural mainstream and have more direct experiences with English language ads they also develop greater skepticism of host language television commercials. This may paralleL the developmental trend round among children as they gain greater experience with commercials (Ward, Wackman and Wartella. 1977).

When the beer attribute rankings were considered, the consumer scale fared better than the general acculturation scale. In every instance it produced higher correlations. The general scale finds acculturation related differences in regard to brand and taste. The consumer related acculturation scale, on the other hand, produced significant (p<.05) correlations with all eight product attributes.

The results from both acculturation scales indicate that more acculturated Hispanics view these product attributes as less important than do those less acculturated Hispanics. While these results may seem to indicate that less acculturated Hispanics consider more product attributes, it might in reality be indicative of a more narrow and less flexible choice model. The consumer acculturation scale was correlated most highly with the importance of: type of beer (light versus regular), package (cans versus bottles), brand, prior experience and taste. The importance of type and package may indicate that only a limited number of brands may ever be considered. The importance of prior experience, brand and taste seems to suggest that brand loyalty may be particularly strong among less acculturated Hispanics.


The results here assessing the underlying dimensions of general acculturation are highly consistent with the current trends in explicating this concept. They indicate that acculturation is not composed of just a single underlying dimension, but, rather, is comprised of several separate lower-order constructs. This underscores the need for future research to avoid utilizing simplistic, single item measures as surrogates for acculturation. One item alone is incapable of tapping all the complexities of this multidimensional concept.

In our research, we have utilized a large number of variables and a greater balance between communication and demographic items than previous acculturation studies. It is, therefore, particularly encouraging to note the close parallel between the factors emerging here and those found by Olmedo and Padilla. In our study, three factors representing national origin, language/communication and SES demographics were uncovered. In Olmedo and Padilla's data, SES formed one dimension while national origin and language combined to form a second factor. The only different factor they found was composed of the potency ascribed to parents; a concept not investigated in our study. Given the differences in the variables included the measures used and the samples, the great similarity in results is extremely encouraging. The results of both studies also support the current trend of perceiving communication variables as an important foundation of acculturation.

Although the convergence of results from these studies is a positive step, we must be concerned at this point about whether these separate dimensions are truly the main components of the broad concept of acculturation, rather than just the acculturation of one specific ethnic group. Most acculturation research is currently focusing on Hispanics. While we too have focused on Hispanics, this study included all major Hispanic groups rather than looking at just one Hispanic subgroup as previous research has done. Given the differences among Hispanic subgroups, the results of this study may be viewed as an initial indication that these underlying dimensions are consistent across different ethnic experiences. Kim's research with Korean immigrants, in which communication variables were found to be important in assessing acculturation levels, further strengthens the possibility that these results may be generalizable to different ethnic groups. However, future research is needed to test this belief

Although the results of this study are encouraging for defining the components of general acculturation, they also indicate that this concept may be of only marginal value in explaining consumer behavior. A relatively simplistic index of consumer specific acculturation was more strongly related to the consumer measures than the general acculturation index. The fact that the general measure was more strongly related to watching Spanish TV and thinking Spanish TV commercials are easier to understand indicates that the consumer specific acculturation measure is tapping more than just a difference in language preference or the mode in which people typically gain information. These findings support our theoretical belief that acculturation is role specific and more advanced conceptualizations must take this into account.

On a theoretical level, future efforts need to concentrate on identifying the different roles people play and determining how each of these may call into play different sets of norms for which an individual may be more or less acculturated. Empirical studies need to be conducted to develop a more complete picture of acculturation. The same individuals should be studied in different roles to determine if any pattern of acculturation exists. For example, do some roles lead to faster acculturation than others? If so, are these the roles which are most commonly depicted in the media? Are the acculturation levels for certain roles related to each other? Are there different underlying dimensions of acculturation for different roles? These questions and many others must be resolved to gain true insights into the acculturation process.

In regard to consumer behavior, measures of consumer related acculturation need to be improved. We started here with a simple communication based measure. However, just as general acculturation appears to have several basic components, so too may consumer specific acculturation. A more thorough understanding of consumer specific acculturation may allow us to more effectively target and promote products and services to different segments of ethnic markets in the same way we use demographics and psychographics to segment the general population. With a growing interest among marketers in Hispanic and other ethnic markets, the concept of acculturation can no longer reasonably be ignored.


Allen, Richard, "Ingratiation in the Interview Situation (1975),"unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Campisi, Paul. "Ethnic Family Patterns: The Italian Family in the United States, (1948)," American Journal of Sociology, 53 (May), 443-9.

Chang, W.H. (1972), "Communication and Acculturation: A Case Study of Korean Ethnic Group in Los Angeles," unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Iowa.

Deshpande, Rohit and Wayne D. Hoyer (1982), "Cross-Cultural Influences on Buyer Behavior: The Impact of Hispanic Ethnicity," in Bruce Walker et al. (eds.), Educators Conference Proceedings. Chicago: American Marketing Association.

Dunn, Edward W., Jr. (1975), "Mexican-American Media Behavior: A Factor Analysis," Journal of Broadcasting, 19 (Fall), 3-10.

Gerson, William (1966) 'Mass Media Socialization Behavior: Negro-White Differences," Social Forces, 45, 40-50.

Greeley, Andrew M., William C. McCreedy and Gary Theisen (1980), Ethnic Drinking Subcultures. New York: Praeger.

Guernica, Antonio (1982), Reaching the HisPanic Market Effectively: The Media, The Market, The Methods, St. Louis: McGraw Hill.

Helming, Ann (1983), "Hispanic Marketing: Savvy, Sensitivity, Pay Off in Confusing Market," Advertising Age, Feb. 14, 54, M-9.

Himmelfarb, Arnold S., Michael Lump, and Susan A. Mutt (1983), "Sampling by Ethnic Surnames: The Case of American Jews," Public Opinion Quarterly, 47, 247-260.

Kim, Young Yun (1977), "Communication Patterns of Foreign Immigrants in the Process of Acculturation," Human Communication Research, 4 (Fall), 66-77.

Kim, Young Yun (1979), "Toward an Interactive Theory of Communication-Acculturation," In D. Nimmo (ed.), Communication Yearbook 3. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books.

Lasswell, Harold D. (1948), "The Structure and Function of Communication in Society," in L. Bryson (ed. ), The Communication of Ideas. New York: Institute for Religious and Social Studies.

Lennon, John J. (1976), A Comparative Study of the Patterns of Acculturation of Selected Puerto Rican Protestant and Roman Catholic Families in an Urban Metropolitan Area, San Francisco: R and E Research Associates.

Murguia, Edward (1975), Assimilation, Colonialism and the Mexican American People. Austin: University of Texas Press.

O'Guinn, Thomas C., Ronald J. Faber and Timothy P. Meyer (1984), "Heterogeneity in Ethnic Media Use: A Study of Spanish Language Media Preferences," paper presented to the International Communication Association. San Francisco.

O'Guinn, Thomas C. and Timothy P. Meyer (1983), "Segmenting the Hispanic Market: The Use of Spanish-Language Radio," Journal of Advertising Research, 23 (December). 9-16.

Olmedo, Esteban L. and Amado M. Padilla (1978), "Empirical and Construct Validation of a Measure of Acculturation for Mexican Americans," Journal of Social Psychology, 105, 179-187.

Pierce, R.C., M.M. Clark and C.W.A. Kiefer (1972), "Boostrap Scaling Technique ," Human Organization, 31, 403-410.

Sapir, Edward (1931), "Communication," in E. Seligman (ed. ), Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, Vol. 4. New York: MacMillan Co.

Trutza, Peter G. ( 1956), "The Religious Factor in Acculturation. A Study of the Assimilation of the Romanian Group in Chicago," unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Chicago.

Wallendorf, Melanie and Michael D. Reilly (1983), "Ethnic Migration, Assimilation, and Consumption," Journal of Consumer Research, 10 (December), 292-302.

Ward, Scott, Dan Wackman and Ellen Wartella (1977), How Children Learn to Buy. Beverly Hills: Sage.



Thomas C. O'Guinn, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Ronald J. Faber, University of Texas at Austin


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 12 | 1985

Share Proceeding

Featured papers

See More


I6. How Does Runner’s World Shape a Runner’s World? Understanding Representations of the “Ideal” Female Body in Fitness Advertising

Carly Drake, University of Calgary, Canada
Scott Radford, University of Calgary, Canada

Read More


Data... the 'Hard' & 'Soft' of it: Impact of Embodied Metaphors on Attitude Strength

Sunaina Shrivastava, University of Iowa, USA
Gaurav Jain, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
JaeHwan Kwon, Baylor University
Dhananjay Nayakankuppam, University of Iowa, USA

Read More


B1. Dynamic Pricing in Stationary Retailing - The Role of Consumer's Trust

Maximilian Clemens Pohst, Heinrich-Heine-University
Caspar Krampe, Heinrich-Heine-University
Peter Kenning, Heinrich-Heine-University

Read More

Engage with Us

Becoming an Association for Consumer Research member is simple. Membership in ACR is relatively inexpensive, but brings significant benefits to its members.