The role of adult attachment in international students’ acculturation process

Miao Li, Robert J. Reese, Xin Ma, Keisha Love

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


International students face a variety of challenges in their acculturation process. Acculturation, the process of adapting to a new cultural environment, is highly variable and influenced by environmental and individual factors that exist before or arise during acculturation. Among the moderating personal factors existing prior to acculturation, adult attachment has received attention as an important variable impacting the acculturation process and adaptation outcomes. Based on the bi-dimensional model of acculturation (Berry, 1997) and the concept of adult attachment (Bowlby, 1977), the current study hypothesized that an insecure attachment (i.e., high attachment anxiety and avoidance) would predict more acculturative stress, less psychological adaptation, and less sociocultural adaptation. We also hypothesized that students who highly identified with their heritage culture and were highly acculturated to the U.S. culture would experience higher levels of psychological and sociocultural adaptation. Also, we examined if adult attachment moderated the effects of acculturation on international students’ psychological and sociocultural adaptation. International students enrolled in higher education institutions in different geographic locations in the United States (N = 221) completed measures of adult attachment, acculturation, acculturative stress, and psychological and sociocultural adaptation. The results suggested that attachment anxiety was a significant predictor of international students’ psychological adaptation. High acculturation to the U.S. significantly predicted more sociocultural adaptation. Attachment avoidance significantly moderated the effect of acculturation to the U.S. culture on international students’ psychological distress, while attachment anxiety was a significant moderator for the effect of acculturation to the U.S. culture on sociocultural adaptation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-41
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Intercultural Relations
StatePublished - Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier Ltd


  • Acculturation
  • Acculturative stress
  • Adult attachment
  • International students
  • Psychological adaptation
  • Sociocultural adaptation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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