The authors propose that cultural frame shifting—shifting between two culturally based interpretative
lenses in response to cultural cues—is moderated by perceived compatibility (vs. opposition) between the
two cultural orientations, or bicultural identity integration (BII). Three studies found that Chinese American
biculturals who perceived their cultural identities as compatible (high BII) responded in culturally congru
ent ways to cultural cues: They made more external attributions (a characteristically Asian behavior) after
being exposed to Chinese primes and more internal attributions (a characteristically Western behavior) after
being exposed to American primes. However, Chinese American biculturals who perceived their cultural
identities as oppositional (low BII) exhibited a reverse priming effect. This trend was not apparent for
noncultural primes. The results show that individual differences in bicultural identity affect how cultural
knowledge is used to interpret social events.
Cultural Frame Switching in Biculturals
With Oppositional Versus Compatible Cultural Identities
University of Michigan
MICHAEL W. MORRIS
“Howmuch is the parrot?” a woman asked. “Wow,ma’am,” uttered the owner, “this is
a very expensive parrot, because he speaks both Spanish and English.” “Oh really?
Can you get him to speak in both languages?” “Sure you can. Look, it’s quite simple:
If you pull the left leg he speaks English.” And he pulled the parrot’s left leg. “Good
morning,” said the bird. “And if you pull the right leg like this, he speaks Spanish.”
And the parrot said: “Buenos Dias!” At which point the woman asked: “What hap
pens if you pull both of his legs, will he speak Tex-Mex?” “Noooo,” answered the par
rot. “I will fall on my ass.”
—Mexican American folk tale, West (1988)
A large body of cross-cultural research shows that individuals from Western cultures
(e.g., United States) and individuals from East Asian cultures (e.g., China, Japan, Korea) dif
fer along myriad psychological processes. For instance, Westerners and East Asians differ
on their self-definitions and self-related processes (Kitayama, Markus, Matsumoto, &
Norasakkunkit, 1997; Rhee, Uleman, Lee, & Roman, 1995) or how they generally reason
AUTHORS’ NOTE: Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to either Verónica Benet-Martínez (e-mail:
firstname.lastname@example.org) or Janxin Leu (e-mail: email@example.com) in the Department of Psychology, 3251 East Hall, University of
Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109. This research was supported in part by a grant from the University of Michigan’s Rackham School
of Graduate Studies to the first author and from the Culture & Cognition Program to the second author. We are thankful to Jennifer
Aaker, Chi-Yue Chiu, Phoebe Ellsworth, Ying-Yi Hong, and Margaret Shih for the insightful comments they provided on an earlier
version of this article and to the following individuals for their assistance with the data collection, coding, and data entry: Curt
Brewer, Hiu Ying Chen, Ashley O. Ho, Osmara Reyes, Mark Akiyama, Patricia Altemura, Rachna Rajan, Maria Magallanes, and
JOURNAL OF CROSS-CULTURAL PSYCHOLOGY, Vol. 33 No. 5, September 2002 492-516
© 2002 Western Washington University
about events in their social worlds (Norenzayan & Nisbett, 2000). Central to this line of
research is the idea that individuals have culturally specific meaning systems, that is, learned
associative networks of ideas, values, beliefs, and knowledge, that are shared by individuals
within the same culture (D’Andrade, 1984). These cultural meaning systems are interpreta
tive frames that affect individuals’ affect, cognition, and behavior (Geertz, 1973; Hong,
Chiu, & Kung,1997; Kashima, 2000; Mendoza-Denton, Shoda, Ayduk, & Mischel, 1999).
In examining cultural differences, psychologists have typically relied on cross-national
designs that compare modal Western and East Asian samples—that is, individuals who are
either Western or East Asian in their nationality or cultural background—on various psycho
logical processes. This approach focuses on variations between rather than within cultural
groups and has encouraged a conceptualization of cultural meaning systems as uniform,
unchanging, and internalized worldviews that color individuals’experiences in a continuous
way (Segall, Lonner, & Berry, 1998). More recently, psychologists have shown that individ
uals can possess dual cultural identities and engage in active cultural frame switching, in
which they move between different cultural meaning systems in response to situational cues.
For example, Hong, Morris, Chiu, and Benet-Martínez (2000; see also Hong, Ip, Chiu, Mor
ris, & Menon, 2001) showedthat Hong Kong and Chinese American biculturals exhibitchar
acteristically Western behaviors when primed with Western cultural cues and characteristi
cally East Asian behaviors when primed with East Asian cues. This work suggests that
culture is not monolithic: People have access to multiple cultural meaning systems and
switch between different culturally appropriate behaviors depending on the context.
The literature on acculturation and biculturalism suggests that large variations exist in
how people with more than one cultural identity manage and experience these multiple
meaning systems. For example, considerable attention has been given to how cultural iden-
tity is affected by exogenous variables such as generational status (Tsai, Ying, & Lee, 2000),
linguistic assimilation (Laroche, Kim, Hui, & Tomiuk, 1998), sociopolitical climate (Berry,
1990; Fordham & Ogbu, 1986; Gurin, Hurtado, & Peng, 1994), or situational cues (Hong
et al., 2000, 2001). In contrast, the role played by individual-difference cognitive, affective,
and motivational variables is much less understood. A rich qualitative literature suggests that
biculturals, or individuals that have experienced and internalized more than one culture, dif
fer in their subjective perception of the tension between the mainstream and ethnic cultures
(Camilleri & Malewska-Peyre, 1997; LaFromboise, Coleman, & Gerton, 1993; Phinney &
Devich-Navarro, 1997; Vivero & Jenkins, 1999). Although some biculturals perceive their
cultural identities as compatible and complementary, others tend to describe them as
oppositional and contradictory. In this article, we call this individual difference bicultural
identity integration (BII) and propose that differences in BII moderate the cultural frame-
switching process. Our focus on individual differences in bicultural identity dynamics has
important theoretical implications for understanding the psychological processes underly
ing biculturalism and acculturation, as well as the practical implications for the social adjust
ment and well-being of immigrants and ethnic minorities.
BICULTURALISM: MANAGING DUAL CULTURAL SYSTEMS
In today’s increasingly global world, it is common for individuals to have multiple cul
tural and racial backgrounds, travel overseas extensively, live in ethnically diverse environ
ments, or live in more than one country. For example, in the United States, the 2000 census
reported that 26.4 million people (roughly 10% of the total population) were born overseas
(http://www.census.gov) and an even larger percentage of people have parents who were
Benet-Martínez et al. / NEGOTIATING BICULTURALISM 493
born in another country. These percentages are considerably higher in other countries such as
Canada, Switzerland, and Australia (Simon, 1995). Indeed, many of us are multicultural
rather than monocultural.
Biculturals pose an interesting theoretical and methodological challenge to traditional
cross-cultural psychological research. Little is known about how biculturals manage and
negotiate their dual cultural identities. For example, there is extensive research showing that
Westerners are more inclined to make internal attributions for social events whereas East
Asians are more likely to focus on external factors (Lee, Hallahan, & Herzog, 1996; Menon,
Morris, Chiu, & Hong, 1999; Morris & Peng, 1994). However, it is not clear how bicultural
individuals who are socialized into both East Asian and Western cultures manage these two
attributional orientations. For instance, do they average across these two different ways of
making attributions, resulting in attributions that are somewhat internal and somewhat exter
nal? Or do they make external attributions under some conditions and internal attributions
under others? Alternatively, do they simply adopt one way of thinking, be it East Asian or
Western (see Oyserman, Sakamoto, & Lauffer, 1998)?
Mary Antin (1912), a Russian Jew who immigrated to the United States at the turn of the
century, described this dilemma of biculturalism in the following way:
Everything impressed itself on my memory, and with double associations; for I was constantly
referring my new world to the old for comparison, and the old to the new for elucidation....All
the processes of uprooting, transportation, replanting, acclimatization, and development took
place in my soul....Itispainful to be conscious of two worlds. (p. 3)
Psychologists have only recently begun to examine how this “double consciousness” is man-
aged (Du Bois, 1990). Contemporary work on acculturation provides strong support for the
idea that individuals can successfully develop competency within more than one culture
(Berry & Sam, 1996; Laroche, Kim, Hui, & Joy, 1996; Ogbu & Matute-Bianchi, 1986; Tsai
et al., 2000). For instance, Berry (1990) described four acculturation strategies that immi-
grants and ethnic minorities use to manage their cultural identities: assimilation, integration
(or biculturalism), marginalization, and separation. Assimilated and separated individuals
identify with only one culture (the mainstream or ethnic culture, respectively), and marginalized
individuals identify with neither culture. However, integrated individuals identify with both
the mainstream and ethnic cultures. Ryder, Alden, and Paulhus (2000) recently found strong
evidence that ethnic and mainstream identifications are independent and have noninverse
correlations with personality, self-identity, and adjustment variables.
Recent studies by Hong and her colleagues (Hong et al., 1997; Hong et al., 2000, 2001)
provide a useful sociocognitive model for how biculturals navigate between their dual cul
tural identities. For instance, Hong et al. (2000) showed that Hong Kong and Chinese Ameri
can biculturals possess both East Asian and Western cultural meaning systems and that each
system can be independently activated by culturally relevant icons or primes. In these stud
ies, Chinese American biculturals were exposed to either American cultural primes (e.g.,
pictures of an American flag, Superman, Marilyn Monroe, and the U.S. Capitol building) or
Chinese cultural primes (e.g., pictures of a Chinese dragon, Stone Monkey, a Peking opera
singer, and the Great Wall). The results showed that exposure to these cultural icons activated
cultural frame switching. Specifically, biculturals exposed to American primes made more
internal attributions, a characteristically Western attribution style, and biculturals exposed to
Chinese primes made more external attributions, a characteristically East Asian attribution
494 JOURNAL OF CROSS-CULTURAL PSYCHOLOGY
Hong et al.’s (2000) work provides compelling evidence that biculturals can move
between different interpretive frames rooted in their dual cultural backgrounds. However,
there is reason to question whether the process of cultural frame switching is uniform across
all biculturals. As mentioned earlier, the acculturation literature suggests that there are large
variations in how biculturals manage their dual identities, particularly their subjective per
ceptions of how much the mainstream and ethnic cultures can be integrated. Specifically, we
propose that perceptions of compatibility (vs. opposition) between the two cultures affect
biculturals’ frame-switching behavior. In the next section, we discuss these ideas in more
detail and propose specific hypotheses about how these differences in bicultural identity
dynamics may affect cultural frame switching.
OPPOSITIONAL VERSUS COMPATIBLE CULTURAL IDENTITIES
Implicit in much of the acculturation literature is the idea that biculturals are consistently
faced with the challenge of integrating different sets of cultural demands and messages, con
flicting interpersonal expectations, and the potential threats of minority status and discrimi
nation (LaFromboise et al., 1993). A careful review of this literature reveals that despite
these challenges of dual cultural membership, many biculturals succeed at developing a
compatible bicultural identity (LaFromboise et al., 1993; Padilla, 1994; Phinney & Devich-
Navarro, 1997; Rotheram-Borus, 1993; Sue, Sue, & Sue, 1983). These individuals identify
with both cultures, even if not at the same level. For example, when asked to describe if they
are ethnic or American, these biculturals tend to say “I am both” or “I am Mexican (or Afri-
can, or Asian) American” (Phinney & Devich-Navarro, 1997). Most important, these
biculturals do not perceive the mainstream and ethnic cultures as being mutually exclusive,
oppositional, or conflicting. Theyintegrate both cultures in their everyday lives, show behav-
ioral competency in both cultures, and switch their behavior depending on the cultural
demands of the situation (Birman, 1994; Chuang, 1999). For instance, Rotheram-Borus
(1993) described the case of self-labeled Mexican Americans who report engaging in both
prototypical American behaviors (e.g., being competitive, task oriented, and individualistic)
and prototypical Mexican behaviors (having a strong sense of obligation to the family, being
emotionally warm and expressive, and deferring to authority) depending on the demands of
On the other hand, the acculturation literature also describes a second type of bicultural
experience.For some biculturals, mainstream and ethnic cultures are perceived as highly dis
tinct, separate, and even oppositional orientations (Chuang, 1999; Gil, Vega,& Dimas, 1994;
Phinney & Devich-Navarro, 1997; Vivero & Jenkins, 1999). Although these individuals also
identify with both cultures or think of themselves as biculturals, they are highly aware of the
discrepancies between the mainstream and ethnic cultures and see these discrepancies as a
source of internal conflict. As a result, these biculturals keep the two cultural identities disso
ciated and report that it is easier to be either ethnic or mainstream but hard to be both at the
same time (Phinney & Devich-Navarro, 1997; Vivero & Jenkins, 1999). For instance, when
asked to describe their ethnicity, these biculturals report “I am a Black (or a Mexican) in
America,” as opposed to “I am African (or Mexican) American” (Phinney & Devich-
Navarro, 1997). They further state that their dual cultures have “very different views,” and
that they feel as if they have to choose one or the other. For example, one bicultural partici
pant in Benet-Martínez and Haritatos’s (2002) study said the following:
Benet-Martínez et al. / NEGOTIATING BICULTURALISM 495
Being “bicultural” makes me feel special and confused. Special because it adds to my identity: I
enjoy my Indian culture, I feel that it is rich in tradition, morality, and beauty; confused
because ...being both cultures isn’t an option. My cultures have very different views on things
like dating and marriage. I feel like you have to choose one or the other. (19-year-old bicultural
Although perceptions of opposition between different cultural identities are more charac
teristic of recent immigrants (see Gil et al., 1994; Tsai et al., 2000), they are also common
among individuals with many years of exposure to the mainstream culture, as well as U.S.-
born biculturals (Benet-Martínez & Haritatos, 2002; Kibria, 2000; Phinney & Devich-
Navarro, 1997; Vivero & Jenkins, 1999). Furthermore, perceptions of opposition (vs. com
patibility) between multiple cultural identities do not seem to be consistently related to an
individual’s attitude toward biculturalism (Benet-Martínez & Haritatos, 2002; Vivero &
In summary, our review of the acculturation literature reveals that although all biculturals
identify with both mainstream and ethnic cultures, some biculturals perceive their dual cul
tural identities as compatible and integrated, whereas others see them as oppositional and
difficult to integrate.
In this article, we use the term bicultural identity integration to
describe this continuum. High BII individuals tend to see their dual identities as compatible,
whereas low BII individuals experience their dual identities as oppositional.
BII AND CULTURAL PRIMING
We suggest that variations in BII may influence the process of cultural frame switching.
Because biculturals with high levels of BII are unconflicted about their two cultural orienta-
tions and see them in nonoppositional terms, they will engage in cultural frame switching
fluidly by reacting to external cues in culturally consistent ways. In other words, when
primed with Western cues, high BII individuals will behave in characteristically Western
ways; when primed with East Asian cues, high BII individuals will behave in characteristi-
cally East Asian ways.
However, low BII biculturals perceive their ethnic (e.g., Chinese) and mainstream (e.g.,
American) identities as oppositional to each other, and we propose that this will lead them to
react to cultural cues in the opposite way. First, chronic polarization of cultures in low BII
biculturals may lead to a cognitive linking of the two cultural meaning systems such that acti
vation of one system spreads to the other (Hong et al., 2000). Accordingly, cultural priming
in low BII biculturals (for example, activating the Chinese meaning system) will lead to an
activation of the other culture (e.g., American). Thus, compared to individuals with high BII,
we predict that low BII individuals will react to the Western primes by providing characteris
tically East Asian behavior and to the East Asian primes by providing characteristically
The rationale for the above contrast or reverse priming effect, specifically, that low BII
individuals will respond to the cultural primes by engaging in behavior that is more consis
tent with the other culture, is also based in the depictions of bicultural identity dynamics
found in the popular media and literature (Chavez, 1994; Durczak, 1997; O’Hearn, 1998;
Roth, 1969). In these accounts, biculturals’ experience of cultural clash or tension is
described as often involving behavioral and/or affective “reactance” against the cultural
expectations embedded in particular situations. For instance, in Philip Roth’s (1969)
novel Portnoy’s Complaint, the partially assimilated Jewish American narrator reports his
496 JOURNAL OF CROSS-CULTURAL PSYCHOLOGY
experience of never feeling and acting more Jewish than when traveling to the Midwest and
never feeling and acting less Jewish than when visiting Israel. In short, he feels more Jewish
in a non-Jewish setting and less Jewish in a Jewish setting. Similarly, the 19-year-old Indian
American bicultural who felt that he or she had “to choose one (culture) or the other” may
exhibit this reactance by feeling or behaving in an American manner in Indian settings while
feeling and behaving in an Indian manner in American settings.
The hypothesized reverse priming effect is further supported by findings reported in the
acculturation and social cognition literatures. Specifically, recent acculturation work shows
that bicultural individuals who display low levels of BII tend to see their two cultures as
highly distinct (different from one another), perceive cultural cues to be extremely valenced
(embodying important meaning for guiding behavior), and display hypervigilance toward
cultural cues to determine appropriate behavior (Phinney & Devich-Navarro, 1997;
Sussman, 2000; Vivero & Jenkins, 1999). These cognitive-affective processes have been
shown to elicit contrast or reverse priming effects. For example, seeing external cues as
highly disparate (Sherif & Hovland, 1961), having high awareness of the cues (Lombardi,
Higgins, & Bargh, 1987; Starck, Schwarz, Bless, Kubler, & Wanke, 1993), thinking more
about the cues (Martin, Seta, & Crelia, 1990), and perceiving cues as highly valenced (Glaser
& Banaji, 1999) have all been shown to elicit contrast effects.
The goal of this article is to examine whether, compared to high BII individuals, low BII
individuals are relatively more likely to exhibit a contrast effect in response to cultural cues.
Although we suggested that multiple factors—for example, cue distinctiveness, cue valence,
and awareness of cultural cues—may all contribute to the contrast effect, the purpose of this
article is not to pinpoint which specific mechanism may be at work but to reliably capture
how BII moderates cultural priming. Overall, we hypothesize an interaction between
bicultural type (high vs. low BII) and cultural primes (American cues vs. Chinese cues) on
the social attributions of Chinese American biculturals. Chinese American biculturals with
high BII will behave in a prime-consistent manner, making stronger internal attributions (a
characteristically Western behavior) for American primes than for Chinese primes. Chinese
American biculturals with low BII, on the other hand, will behave in a relatively more prime-
resistant manner, making stronger internal attributions for Chinese primes than for Ameri
Study 1 replicated the procedures used in Hong et al. (2000), in which Chinese American
biculturals were first exposed to either East Asian or Western cultural primes and then, in an
allegedly unrelated task, asked to provide interpretations for an ambiguous social event. In
addition, we measured BII and examined how BII moderated the effect of the cultural primes
Our sample consisted of 65 first-generation or immigrant Chinese American undergradu
ates (26 men, 39 women; mean age = 20.3, SD = 3.4) from a large university on the West
Benet-Martínez et al. / NEGOTIATING BICULTURALISM 497
Coast of the United States. All participants were born in a Chinese country (People’s Repub
lic of China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao, or Singapore), lived at least 5 years in a Chinese
country (M = 12.4, SD = 5.6), and lived at least 5 years in the United States (M = 8.4, SD =
3.3). We recruited our participants through campus flyers soliciting individuals that have
lived at least 5 years in a Chinese country and at least five years in the United States and paid
them each $12 for their participation.
Procedures were similar to those used in Hong et al. (2000). Participants were first ran
domly assigned to the American or Chinese priming condition. In the American condition,
participants were shown American cultural primes, specifically, pictures of Mickey Mouse,
the U.S. Capitol building, a cowboy, Mount Rushmore, and the Statue of Liberty. In the Chi
nese condition, they were shown Chinese cultural primes, including pictures of a Chinese
dragon, the Summer Palace in Beijing, a rice farmer, the Great Wall of China, and a mythical
Chinese goddess. This priming procedure was designed to activate the American or Chinese
cultural meaning systems.
Participants then engaged in an allegedly unrelated inferential task in which they were
shown a computer-generated animation display of a single fish swimming in front of a group
of fish. After watching the display, participants were instructed to interpret why the single
fish and the group of fish were swimming apart using a 9-point Likert-type scale. This scale
measured participants’ internal (vs. external) attributions of the display, where 1 indicated
agreement with the statement that “the one fish is being influenced by the group (e.g., being
chased, teased, or pressured by the others)” and 9 indicated agreement with the statement
that “the one fish is influenced by some internal trait (such as independence, personal objec-
tive, or leadership)” (see Hong et al., 2000, and Morris & Peng, 1994, for other studies using
the same method and items for measuring social attributions).
After the experimental session, participants completed a questionnaire that asked them to
provide information regarding gender, age, country of birth, years lived in the United States
and in a Chinese country, English and Chinese language proficiency and usage, and cultural
Participants’degree of BII was assessed using a short vignette, developed for
the purposes of this study, which we called the Bicultural Identity Integration Scale–Pilot
Version (BIIS-P). Rather than developing multiple items, this preliminary, short measure of
BII assesses perceived opposition between Chinese and American cultural identities in a
multistatement paragraph that is rated as a single item (for a discussion of the justificationfor
and advantages of single-item measures, see Gosling, Rentfrow, & Swann, 2001; Robins,
Hendin, & Trzesniewski, 2001). These statements were drawn from qualitative data in past
Specifically, we examined actual interview data and selected key statements that
best differentiatedlow BIIs from high BIIs (Phinney & Devich-Navarro,1997). We reasoned
that these statements have a high level of face validity with our respondents, who have simi
lar experiences as the informants from past research. The final vignette read,
I am a bicultural who keeps American and Chinese cultures separate and feels conflicted about
these two cultures. I am simply a Chinese who lives in America (vs. a Chinese-American), and I
feel as someone who is caught between two cultures.
Using a scale ranging from 1 (definitely not true)to8(definitely true), participants rated
how well the above statements described their own experiences as a Chinese American.
498 JOURNAL OF CROSS-CULTURAL PSYCHOLOGY
Two separate (English and Chinese) language composite scores were created after factor
analyses of the 14 language proficiency and usage items supported the existence of two reli
able and independent language factors. We found that our sample reported similar levels of
proficiency with English (M = 5.6, SD = 1.2) and with Chinese (M = 5.4, SD = 1.4). Recall
that our participants had also rated the strength of their identification with Chinese and
American cultures on a scale of 1 to 6 (with higher scores indicating stronger identification);
our sample reported identifying with both American culture (M = 3.9, SD = 1.3) and Chinese
culture (M = 4.8, SD = 1.0).
Participants’ratings of the statements describing cultural opposition displayed a normal
distribution with a mean of 4.3 (SD = 2.0, median = 4.0). We performed a median split on
these ratings to separate participants into high and low BII groups. Participants who scored
below the median (perceived low opposition) were categorized as high BII (n = 27), and par
ticipants who scored at or above the median (perceived high opposition) were categorized as
low BII (n = 38). Table 1 reports the descriptive statistics for high and low BII bicultural
groups. Note that both groups had relatively high levels of Chinese and American language
proficiency/use and cultural identification and did not differ in years spent in each country or
age of migration to United States. This supports the bicultural status of both high and low
BIIs and suggests that at least for this sample, BII was not driven by exogenous variables
such as degree of exposure to mainstream and ethnic cultures.
The study had a 2 (cultural priming: American or Chinese) × 2 (bicultural type: low vs.
high BII) design. The dependent variable was participants’attributional rating of the fish dis-
play. Results from this 2 × 2 ANOVA revealed that the main effects for cultural priming and
bicultural type did not reach conventional levels of significance. Participants in the Ameri
can priming condition made somewhat stronger internal attributions than those in the Chi
nese priming condition, F(1, 61) = 2.81, p = .10. Biculturals low on BII made somewhat
stronger internal attributions than those with high BII, F(1, 61) = 2.57, p = .11.
The predicted interaction between bicultural type and priming was significant, F(1, 61) =
5.94, p = .02. The means and standard errors for each condition are listed in Table 2. Figure 1
shows the interaction residuals with main effects and grand mean subtracted, following
Rosenthal and Rosnow’s (1992) advice.
As Figure 1 shows, biculturals high on BII behaved
in a prime-consistent manner, making relatively stronger internal attributions in the Ameri
can prime condition than in the Chinese prime condition. Biculturals with low BII, on the
other hand, behaved in a prime-resistant manner by making relatively weaker internal attri
butions in the American prime condition than in the Chinese prime condition. This interac
tion effect supports our predictions.
Study 1 found initial support for our hypothesis. We found that bicultural type signifi
cantly moderated the effects of cultural priming on attributions. When shown American
primes, biculturals with high BII made stronger internal attributions, a characteristically
Benet-Martínez et al. / NEGOTIATING BICULTURALISM 499
Western attribution style, than when they were shown Chinese primes. Biculturals with low
levels of BII, on the other hand, exhibited the reverse pattern.
Our study has several limitations. First, we relied on a single bipolar item to measure attri
butions (whether the fish was influenced by the group vs. influenced by a trait) instead of
measuring external and internal attributions separately. Although some studies have mea
sured attribution on a single scale, other studies have measured internal and external attribu
tions on separate dimensions (Krull, 1993; Lee et al., 1996) and have shown that they do not
always correlate highly with one another (Choi & Nisbett, 1998). In addition, we asked par
ticipants about their attributions for only a single animated fish display. Both these factors
may have contributed to a less complete and reliable picture of our participants’attributions.
Using separate measures of internal and external attributions with multiple fish displays may
increase the reliability of our results.
Furthermore, we asked participants to rate how well the leading fish’s behavior was
explained by an internal cause (trait of the fish) or an external cause (the group of fish).
Although rating attributional scales have been used in past research (Hong et al., 2000; Mor
ris & Peng, 1994), they do not allow consideration of a broad range of possible internal and
external causes for the fish’s behavior. For example, it is plausible that participants attributed
the fish’s behavior to an unseen predator, a food source ahead, or other external factors that
500 JOURNAL OF CROSS-CULTURAL PSYCHOLOGY
Study 1: Descriptive Statistics for
High and Low Bicultural Identity Integration (BII) Participants
High BII Low BII
Years in United States 8.7 4.1 8.2 4.4
Years in Chinese culture 11.8 6.2 12.8 5.8
Age of migration 12.2 6.2 12.1 6.2
6.0 1.3 5.2* 0.9
4.5 1.5 5.6* 1.4
4.1 1.3 3.5 1.2
4.5 0.9 5.1* 0.9
NOTE: n = 65 first-generation Chinese American bicultural college students.
a. Composite score tapping ability, past and present use, and media exposure (1 to 8 scale range).
b. Composite score tapping ability, past and present use, and media exposure (1 to 6 scale range).
*Significant mean difference (p < .01).
Study 1: Attribution Means and Standard Errors of High and Low
Bicultural Identity Integration (BII) Participants by Priming Condition
Dependent Variable BII Prime MSE
Internal attribution High Chinese 3.53 0.49
American 5.87 0.76
Low Chinese 5.83 0.51
American 5.40 0.48
we did not include in our attributional measure. As such, it is not clear whether the results
might have been affected by idiosyncratic features of the specific internal and external
causes we selected to anchor our scale. A more open-ended response format may be needed
to examine the full range of attributions participants could possibly make for the fish’s
One possible limitation of our study is that it was conducted with college students in an
American university laboratory. This setting provides a strong Western cultural backdrop, in
essence, creating an underlying Western prime. The university is a linguistically homoge
nous environment (Williamson, 1999), and college students spend most of their time study
ing, working, and even living on campus, where opportunities to function within other cul
tural settings might be limited. Accordingly, biculturals in our sample might be less likely to
switch between their dual modes of behavior, even when primed to do so. To address this
problem, it is necessary to examine biculturals in community settings where both American
and Chinese cultural cues are present and where biculturals are more likely to actively move
between the two cultures.
Benet-Martínez et al. / NEGOTIATING BICULTURALISM 501
Internal vs. External
Figure 1: Study 1: Interaction Residuals of Internal Attributional Ratings for High and Low Bicultural
Identity Integration (BII) Participants Across Priming Conditions
A second study was conducted with the goal of replicating the hypothesized bicultural
type by cultural priming interaction and addressing the limitations of Study 1. The procedure
used in Study 2 was similar to Study 1, with the following changes. First, additional items
and methods were used to measure attributions. Specifically, participants rated external and
internal attributions separately, provided both close-ended and open-ended attributional
responses, and provided attributions for multiple animated fish displays. Second, we
expanded our sample beyond college students to include high school students as well. Third,
we conducted the study not only within a university setting but also in community settings
(Chinese high schools and community centers).
Our sample consisted of 176 first-generation Chinese American individuals (73 males,
103 females; mean age = 15.96, SD = 1.55) drawn from college campuses (n = 84), local Chi-
nese high schools (n = 26), and Chinese youth community centers (n = 66) from the West
Coast of the United States. As in Study 1, all participants were born in a Chinese country
(People’s Republic of China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao, or Singapore) and had lived at
least 5 years in a Chinese country (M = 8.75, SD = 3.55) and the United States (M = 8.31, SD =
3.70). Like Study 1, our sample was highly bilingual and identified with both American and
Chinese cultures. Participants were recruited by means of campus e-mails and flyers, adver-
tisements placed in newspapers, and through liaisons in high schools and youth community
centers. Participants were each paid $12 for their involvement.
The procedure of Study 2 was similar to that of Study 1. High school participants were
tested in their homes, high schools, or local community centers. University students were
tested in a laboratory room. Like Study 1, all participants were randomly assigned to either
the American or the Chinese priming condition and exposed to either American or Chinese
cultural primes. Next, participants were shown two animated fish displays, each showing a
fish swimming in front of a group of fish (the only difference between the two displays were
the colors used to depict the fish). After viewingeach animation, participants responded to an
open-ended question: “Why are the single fish and the group of fish swimming apart?” Then,
using a 7-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (definitely not true)to7(definitely true),
participants indicated their agreement with the statement “the one fish is being influenced by
the group (e.g., is being chased, teased, or pressured by others)” as a measure of external
attribution and the item “the one fish is influenced by some internal trait (such as independ
ence, personal objective, or leadership)” as a measure of internal attribution.
Next, participants provided demographic information similar to that collected in Study 1
and responded to the statements from the BIIS-P measure using a scale that ranged from 1
(definitely not true)to5(definitely true). Participants also completed Berry, Kim, Power,
Young, and Bujaki’s (1989) 20-item measure of the four acculturation strategies: assimila
tion, integration (or biculturalism), separation, and marginalization. Each item was rated
with a scale that ranged from 1 (strongly disagree)to5(strongly agree).
502 JOURNAL OF CROSS-CULTURAL PSYCHOLOGY
English and Chinese proficiency scores were computed using the same method as
Study 1. On a scale of 1 to 6 (higher numbers indicating higher proficiency on and use of the
particular language), our sample reported similar levels of English (M = 3.4, SD = 0.7) and
Chinese (M = 3.5, SD = 0.7) proficiency and use. Mean cultural identification levels, which
ranged from 1 (very weak)to6(very strong), were 3.9 (SD = 1.2) and 4.7 (SD = 1.0) for
American and Chinese cultures, respectively. Overall scores on Berry et al.’s (1989) four
acculturation scales were 4.1 (SD = 0.5), 2.3 (SD = 0.7), 2.1 (SD = 0.6), and 1.5 (SD = 0.6) for
integration (biculturalism), separation, assimilation, and marginalization, respectively;
these results indicate that biculturalism is the predominant orientation of the participants.
Two coders blind to the experimental conditions coded the open-ended attributional
responses for levelsof internality and externality. Responses that focused on the traits, attrib
utes, and behaviors of the single fish (for example, “the fish is a strong leader”) were given
high internal ratings and low external ratings. Responses that focused on the group of fish or
other contextual factors (for example, “the group is powerful and chases the fish”) were
given high external ratings and low internal ratings. Responses that included explanations in
terms of both internal traits of the single fishand external factors were given high internal and
high external ratings. The interrater reliability was high for both internal (α = .87) and exter-
nal (α = .89) attributions. Ratings were averaged across the two coders.
As mentioned earlier, participants provided attributions for two animated fish displays.
Participants’attribution ratings across the two fish displays were averaged (the internal reli-
ability between the two displays, as measured by the Spearman Brown coefficient, were R =
.72 for close-ended internal ratings, R = .58 for close-ended external ratings, R = .76 for
open-ended internal ratings, and R = .68 for open-ended external ratings). A comparison
between the high school and college subsamples revealed no significant differences on their
BII ratings, t(173) = 0.99, p = .32. The two subsamples differed in their ratings of open-ended
external attributions, t(174) = 2.11, p = .04, but showed no differences in the other
attributional ratings. Thus, data from these two samples were combined.
Like Study 1, BII ratings were normally distributed (M = 2.85, SD = 1.17, median = 3). We
performed a median split on these ratings to separate participants into high and low BII
groups. Participants who scored below the median were categorized as high BII (n = 87), and
participants who scored at or above the median were categorized as low BII (n = 88). The
high school and college subsamples did not differ in the ratio of low to high BII biculturals
(college ratio = 0.77, high school ratio = 1.30; χ
= 3.02, p = .08).
Table 3 reports the descriptive statistics for low and high BII groups. When examining
results for the entire sample, we find that, unlike Study 1, high and low BII individuals dif
fered in age of migration, years spent in each country, and Chinese and American language
and cultural identification. These differences appear to suggest that compared to those with
high BII, low BII individuals were less assimilated into American culture and more involved
with Chinese culture (although these differences were less evident when examining the high
school and college subsamples separately). These differences between high and low BII
individuals, however, do not undermine the bicultural status of individuals with low BII.
First, scores for low BIIs on both American and Chinese language and identification scores
were moderate to high. More important, low and high BII groups did not differ in their
endorsement of biculturalism (as measured by Berry et al.’s, 1989, scale), and both groups
Benet-Martínez et al. / NEGOTIATING BICULTURALISM 503
endorsed this acculturation strategy well above the other three (separation, assimilation, and
marginalization). This latter finding was true in both the college and high school samples,
suggesting that both high and low BIIs were biculturals.
Study 2 consisted of a 2 × 2 factorial design with cultural primes (American or Chinese)
and bicultural types (low vs. high BII) as independent variables. The dependent variables
were participants’ internal and external attributions of the fish displays, which were mea
sured using both open-ended and close-ended formats.
We first conducted a MANOVA on all four dependent variables (ratings of external attri
butions were reversed scored). The analysis did not reveal a main effect for cultural priming,
F(1, 170) = 0.13, p = .97, nor for bicultural type, F(1, 170) = 0.32, p = .86. The interaction
between cultural priming and bicultural type did not reach conventional levels of signifi
cance, although the effect was in the predicted direction, F(1, 170) = 1.85, p = .12.
We then conducted 2 × 2 ANOVAs separately for each of the four dependent variables.
The means and standard errors are reported in Table 4. With close-ended internal attribu
tions, there were no main effects for cultural priming, F(1, 170) = 0.05, p = .82, or bicultural
type, F(1, 170) = 1.02, p = .31. We found a significant interaction effect between bicultural
type and cultural priming, F(1, 170) = 4.39, p = .04. The interaction residuals are illustrated
in Figure 2. As predicted, biculturals with high BII behaved in a prime-consistent manner,
making relatively more internal attributions in the American than Chinese priming condi-
tions. Low BII biculturals, meanwhile, behaved in a prime-resistant manner, making rela-
tively more internal attributions in the Chinese than American priming conditions.
We also found support for our hypothesis when we examined close-ended external attri-
butions. There was no main effect for cultural priming, F(1, 170) = 0.26, p = .61, or bicultural
type, F(1, 170) = 0.18, p = .67. The interaction between bicultural type and cultural priming
was significant, F(1, 170) = 5.41, p = .02. The interaction residuals shown in Figure 2 indi-
cate that high BII biculturals were prime consistent, making relatively more external attribu
tions when shown Chinese primes than American primes, and that low BII biculturals were
prime resistant, making relatively more external attributions when shown American primes
than Chinese primes.
Analyses using open-ended internal attributions as the dependent variable revealed no
main effects for cultural priming, F(1, 170) = 0.00, p = .99, nor for bicultural type, F(1, 170)
= 0.46, p = .50. The interaction between cultural priming and bicultural type did not reach
conventional levels of significance, F(1, 170) = 2.81, p = .10, although the effect was in the
predicted direction (see interaction residuals in Figure 3): High BII biculturals were prime
consistent, making more internal attributionsfor American than Chinese primes, and low BII
biculturals were prime resistant, showing a trend toward making more internal attributions
for Chinese than American primes.
Analyses using open-ended external attributions as the dependent variable found no main
effects for cultural priming, F(1, 170) = 0.01, p = .95, nor for bicultural type, F(1, 170) =
0.20, p = .66. The interaction between priming and bicultural type did not reach conventional
levels of significance, F(1, 170) = 3.36, p = .07, although the effectwas in the predicted direc
tion (see the interaction residuals in Figure 3).
504 JOURNAL OF CROSS-CULTURAL PSYCHOLOGY
Benet-Martínez et al. / NEGOTIATING BICULTURALISM 505
Study 2: Descriptive Statistics for High and Low Bicultural Identity Integration
Entire Sample (N = 176) College (n = 84) High School (n = 92)
High BII Low BII High BII Low BII High BII Low BII
M SD M SD M SD M SD M SD M SD
Years in United States 9.2 3.6 7.0* 3.6 10.8 3.2 9.0 4.0 7.6 3.2 5.4* 2.4
Years in Chinese culture 8.2 3.4 10.1* 3.3 7.9 3.1 9.7 3.8 8.1 3.7 10.2* 3.0
Age of migration 8.0 3.2 10.0* 3.1 8.0 3.1 9.7 3.8 8.4 3.6 10.2* 3.0
4.0 0.7 3.6* 0.7 4.4 0.4 3.9* 0.6 3.6 0.7 3.3 0.7
3.3 0.8 3.8* 0.6 2.9 0.8 3.7* 0.5 3.7 0.6 3.9 0.6
4.1 1.2 3.5* 1.1 4.5 1.1 3.6 1.0 3.8 1.2 3.4 1.2
4.6 1.0 5.0* 0.9 4.3 1.1 4.9 0.9 4.8 0.9 5.1 0.9
Biculturalism 4.0 0.5 4.0 0.5 3.9 0.5 3.9 0.4 4.0 0.5 3.9 0.6
Separation 2.2 0.7 2.4* 0.6 2.1 0.7 2.4* 0.5 2.4 0.7 2.6 0.6
Assimilation 2.2 0.7 2.1 0.5 2.4 0.8 1.9 0.5 1.9 0.5 2.2 0.5
Marginalization 1.5 0.6 1.7 0.6 1.4 0.4 1.5 0.5 1.7 0.7 1.7 0.6
NOTE: N = 176 first-generation Chinese American bicultural high school and college students.
a. Composite score tapping ability, past and present use, and media exposure (1to 6 scale range).
b. Composite score tapping ability, past and present use, and media exposure (1 to 6 scale range).
c. Composite score tapping ability, past and present use, and media exposure (1 to 5 scale range).
*Significant mean difference (p < .01) between low and high BII.
Study 2: Attribution Means and Standard Errors of High and Low
Bicultural Identity Integration (BII) Participants by Priming Condition
Variable BII Prime MSE
Closed ended Internal Low Chinese 4.99 0.23
American 4.51 0.21
High Chinese 4.75 0.21
American 5.16 0.23
Closed ended External Low Chinese 3.75 0.26
American 4.20 0.24
High Chinese 4.23 0.24
American 3.51 0.26
Open ended Internal Low Chinese 4.77 0.26
American 4.38 0.24
High Chinese 4.52 0.25
American 4.95 0.26
Open-Ended External Low Chinese 3.50 0.25
American 3.98 0.23
High Chinese 3.84 0.23
American 3.41 0.25
Study 2 extended Study 1 by using a larger, more diverse sample of Chinese American
biculturals and using multiple measures of attributions. The results of Study 2 found consis-
tent evidence of an interaction between bicultural type and cultural primes on attributionsfor
the internal and external (close-ended) attributions. As we predicted, biculturals high on BII
behaved in a prime-consistent manner: Chinese primes elicited more external attributions,
and American primes elicited more internal attributions. Biculturals with low BII, on the
other hand, behaved in a prime-resistant manner by making more internal attributions in the
Chinese priming condition and more external attributions in the American priming
These interactions between bicultural type and priming condition were evident for inter
nal as well as external attributions. However, although the hypothesized interaction effect
was significant for the close-ended attribution measures, they were not significant for the
open-ended measures (although the means were in the predicted direction). We argued ear
lier that open-ended measures of attributions were more nuanced, as they were not restricted
to specific internal and external causes listed in the close-ended items. Yet because partici
pants were free to respond openly, there might be more variance in the coding and measure
ment of attributions, contributing to the slightly weaker effect. However, it is important to
note that the size of the interaction effects of the open-ended measures did not differ signifi
cantly from the size of the effects obtained using the close-ended measures. Meta-analytical
comparisons between the effect sizes of the close-ended and open-ended effects found no
significant differences, Z (internal attributions) = 0.29, p = .39; Z (external attributions) =
0.34, p = .37.
506 JOURNAL OF CROSS-CULTURAL PSYCHOLOGY
Figure 2: Study 2: Interaction Residuals of Close-Ended Measures of Internal and External Attributions
forHigh and Low Bicultural Identity Integration (BII) ParticipantsAcrossPriming Conditions
Studies 1 and 2 provide compelling evidence that BII moderates the cultural frame-
switching process. We argued that biculturals with low levels of BII perceived more opposi-
tion between their dual cultural identities; as such, there might be a strong cognitive-affective
linking of the two cultural meaning systems (Hong et al., 2000). Furthermore, low BII indi-
viduals might have perceived Chinese and American cultural cues as more disparate, paid
more attention to cultural cues, and attached higher levels of valence to cultural cues
(Phinney & Devich-Navarro, 1997; Sussman, 2000; Vivero & Jenkins, 1999). As such, the
predicted interaction in Studies 1 and 2 should be evident only when high and low BII
biculturals are exposed to cultural cues. Indeed, we would not expect low BII biculturals to
behave differently from high BII biculturals toward environmental cues that are not cultur
ally specific. Thus, to show that bicultural type moderates the relationship between attribu
tions and cultural primes only, we need to also show that low and high BII biculturals would
not react differently to culturally neutral primes, or primes that are not directly related to any
Study 3 used the same methodology as Studies 1 and 2, except both high and low BII
biculturals were shown culturally neutral primes. We predicted no differences in attributions
between these two groups under these conditions, as culturally neutral primes should not
induce a stronger cognitive-affective link, perceptions of disparity between cues, heightened
attention, or stronger valence among biculturals with low BII.
Benet-Martínez et al. / NEGOTIATING BICULTURALISM 507
Figure 3: Study 2: Interaction Residuals of Open-Ended Measures of Internal and External Attributions
forHigh and Low Bicultural Identity Integration (BII) ParticipantsAcrossPriming Conditions
Our sample consisted of 35 first-generation Chinese American individuals (15 men, 20
women; mean age = 20.37, SD = 1.40) drawn from a large university on the West Coast of the
United States. As in Studies 1 and 2, all participants were born in a Chinese country and had
lived at least 5 years in a Chinese country (M = 10.5, SD = 4.7) and in the United States (M =
9.2, SD = 4.7). Again, all participants were bilingual and identified equally with Chinese and
American cultures. Means for the Chinese and English composite language scores (which ranged
from 1 to 8) were 6.3 (SD = 1.7) and 7 (SD = 1.4), respectively. Mean Chinese and American
cultural identification levels (which ranged from 1 to 6) were 4.8 (SD = 1) and 3.8 (SD = 1.4),
respectively. We recruited our participants through campus flyers and paid them each $12.
The procedure of Study 3 was similar to that of Studies 1 and 2. However, instead of being
exposed to American or Chinese cultural primes, all participants were shown primes of land
scapes, including a full moon over mountains, a lake with trees around it, a desert with sand
dunes, a river winding through a valley, a thick forest, and an ocean shoreline. These land-
scape pictures were generic and did not reflect unique landscape features of any East Asian
or Western countries. In short, the primes were devoid of any cultural specificity. Next, par-
ticipants were shown an animated fish display and then provided separate closed-ended
internal and external attributionsof why the one fish was swimming ahead of the group. Last,
we measured participants’ levels of BII using the BIIS-P, as in Studies 1 and 2.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
Like Studies 1 and 2, we performed a median split on the ratings of the BII statements
(M = 4.5, SD = 2, median = 5.00) to separate participants into low (n = 16) and high (n = 19)
BII types. Table 5 reports descriptivestatistics for these two groups. Note that the only differ
ence between the high and low BII groups was in the Chinese language scores.
We next compared the attributions of high and low BII biculturals. As predicted, high and
low BII biculturals did not exhibit different attributional behaviors after being exposed to
culturally neutral primes (means and standard errors are listed in Table 6). This was true
when we examined internal attribution ratings, t(32) = 0.28, p = .78, as well as external attri
bution ratings, t(33) = –0.21, p = .83. Both effect sizes were small (r = .05 for internal attribu
tions, and r = .04 for external attributions). The lack of effects in this study was confirmed by
a power analysis that showed that our design had an 85% probability of detecting a medium
effect size and more than a 90% probability of detecting a large effect size. Although Study 3
did not provide a direct test of how biculturals behave in response to cultural versus
noncultural cues, note that participants in this and the other two studies are quite similar in
their demographics and descriptive characteristics, and as such, an implicit comparison can
be made. All in all, results from Study 3 confirm our prediction that differences in BII would
not moderate biculturals’ attributions after being exposed to noncultural cues.
508 JOURNAL OF CROSS-CULTURAL PSYCHOLOGY
Across three experiments, we demonstrated that Chinese American biculturals possess
separate American and Chinese cultural schemas that guide their behavior and that each
schema can be activated by situational cues (Hong et al., 2000, 2001). This finding supports
the dynamic constructivist perspective on culture, suggesting that dual cultural meaning sys
tems can be mentally represented and integrated by an individualand that these meaning sys
tems are dynamic and responsive to situational cues.
More important, we found evidence suggesting that the effect of situational cues on attri
butions is moderated by an individual difference variable, BII, or the perceivedcompatibility
or opposition between ethnic and mainstream cultures. High BIIs perceive their two cultural
identities to be compatible, and low BII biculturals perceive their cultural identities to be
oppositional. We found that biculturals with both low and high levels of BII engaged in cul
tural frame switching in response to external cues. However, they did so in different ways.
Biculturals high on BII exhibited prime-consistent behavior, behaving in a more Chinese
way when exposed to Chinese primes and behaving in a more American way when exposed
to American primes. Biculturals low on BII exhibited a contrast or prime-resistant effect,
behaving in a more American way when exposed to Chinese primes and behaving in a more
Benet-Martínez et al. / NEGOTIATING BICULTURALISM 509
Study 3: Descriptive Statistics for High and Low
Bicultural Identity Integration (BII) Participants
High BII Low BII
Years in United States 10.3 5.4 8.2 3.4
Years in Chinese culture 9.2 5.0 11.5 4.3
7.2 1.8 6.8 1.2
5.3 1.7 7.1* 1.1
4.2 1.3 3.5 1.4
4.5 1.0 5.0 0.9
NOTE: N = 35 first-generation Chinese American bicultural college students.
a. Composite score tapping ability, past and present use, and media exposure (1 to 8 scale range).
b. Composite score tapping ability, past and present use, and media exposure (1 to 6 scale range).
*Significant mean difference (p < .01).
Study 3: Attribution Means and Standard Errors of High and Low
Bicultural Identity Integration (BII) Participants
Dependent Variable BII MSE
Internal High 4.94 0.54
Low 5.17 0.63
External High 6.75 0.59
Low 6.58 0.56
Chinese way when exposed to American primes. Low and high BII biculturals behaved dif
ferently only in response to culturally meaningful primes and did not behave differently
when shown culturally neutral primes. Although many studies have demonstrated contrast
effects (Ford & Thompson, 2000; Glaser & Banaji, 1999), these studies have typically
manipulated the content of the primes as well as the conditions in which the cues were pre
sented to participants. The present set of studies is among the first to show that a (cultural)
individual difference variable, namely, differences in BII, might lead to a contrast or reverse
At the same time, future studies should replicate this interaction between
biculturalism type and cultural cues, given that although the effects for our open-ended
dependent variables were in the predicted direction, they did not reach conventional levels of
We argued that low BII biculturals exhibited this contrast effect because they experience
their dual cultural identities as distinct and contradictory, leading to a cognitive-affective
linkage of the two cultural meaning systems, increased cognitiveeffort in processing cultural
cues in the environment, and perception of cultural cues as highly valenced (Phinney &
Devich-Navarro, 1997; Vivero & Jenkins, 1999). Although we argued that low BIIs’percep
tions of cultural cues closely resembled the conditions that typically elicit the contrast effect,
the present studies did not aim to pinpoint the exact underlying cognitive processes that con
tributed to the contrast effect among low BIIs. Rather, the main goal of our three studies was
to explore the role played by bicultural identity dynamics in the process of cultural frame
Future research is needed to examine the specific cognitive-affective processes that con-
tribute to the contrast effect displayed by low BII individuals. For example, the level of cog-
nitive processing devoted to processing cultural cues can be measured by examining partici-
pants’memory of the primes (e.g., Newman & Uleman, 1990). Based on the present results,
we would expect lowBIIs to pay more attention to cultural cues and thus havehigher recall of
these cues than high BIIs. Furthermore, we would expectattention to cultural cues to mediate
the interaction between the effect of cultural primes and BII on attributions; in other words,
the hypothesized interaction might not be apparent when controlling for participants’ atten
tion to the cultural cues. Alternatively, the level of cognitive processing participants engage
in can be directly manipulated (for example, by introducing a cognitive load). One would
expect that low BIIs under a cognitive load would not be able to extensively process the cul
tural cues, which might also eliminate the contrast effect. Similarly, differences in the
valence and distinctiveness biculturals attach to the two cultures could be measured by
content-analyzing participants’ a priori, spontaneous depictions of each culture.
The present results demonstrate that individual differences as measured by BII moderate
the acculturation process in general and bicultural frame switching in particular. Given the
controlled nature of our experimental studies, future observational and ethnographic studies
are needed that examine the effects of BII on biculturals’response to cultural cues in real-life
situations (e.g., when being with Chinese or American friends). Specifically, it is important
to examine whether low BIIs actually behave in nonculturally congruent ways in their nor
mal, everyday lives and the possible social functions and consequences of such behavior. For
example, by behaving in an American manner in response to Chinese cues in the environ
ment, does noncongruent or resistant frame switching protect low BIIs against cultural ste
reotyping (Kray, Thompson, & Galinsky, 2001)? Alternatively, does this behavior prevent
them from reacting to externalcues in adaptive ways? In short, it is important to examine how
cultural frame switching—either in culturally congruent or incongruent ways—facilitates or
hinders the process of negotiating a dual cultural membership.
510 JOURNAL OF CROSS-CULTURAL PSYCHOLOGY
Although our results emphasize how high and low BII’s respond to cultural cues in differ
ent ways, we also found interesting similarities between individuals with high and low BII.
For instance, although high and low BIIs differed in some cases in their levels of cultural
competence (e.g., English and Chinese language usage and proficiency) and identification
with Chinese and American cultures, they tended to have equal levels of cultural exposure
(years lived in the United States and a Chinese country) and very similar acculturation atti
tudes (see Tables 1, 3, and 5).
Given the exploratory nature of the present studies, our preliminary single-item measure
of BII, although useful in identifying variations of perceived opposition (vs. compatibility)
between two cultures among biculturals, provides only a limited and perhaps unreliable
assessment of the various psychological processes that may underlie BII. Specifically, our
operationalization of BII mixes perceptions of cultural distance or compartmentalization
(e.g., keeps American and Chinese cultures separate) with cultural conflict (e.g., feels con
flicted about these two cultures). However, these two types of perceptions may be somewhat
independent (Benet-Martínez & Haritatos, 2002). Questions also remain as to the unique
role cultural distance and conflict may play in predicting cultural frame-switching behav
Future work should examine to what extent BII, and its possible components, is related
to (a) contextual factors, such as intercultural role, value conflict, and acculturation stressors
(e.g., discrimination); (b) sociocognitive and personality variables, including cognitive
styles (see Benet-Martínez & Haritatos, 2002); and (c) other cultural- and ethnic-related
identity constructs such as those proposed by Hutnik (1991), Marcia (2002), and Tafjel and
Future research should also examine the relationship between BII and psychological/
social adjustment, specifically bicultural competence (LaFromboise et al., 1993; Taylor,
1994). Indeed, researchers in clinical, educational, and counseling psychology have been
increasingly interested in how the integration of different sets of cultural demands and inter-
personal expectations among biculturals affect psychological well-being (LaFromboise
et al., 1993). If, as we proposed, lowBII biculturals perceive the demands from their different
cultural environments to be largely oppositional, they may be more prone to the stresses that
accompany the acculturation process (Inman, Ladany, Constantine, & Morano, 2001). Fur
thermore, if low BIIs consistently behave in a prime-resistant manner, they may receive neg
ative feedback regarding the cultural appropriateness or adeptness of their behavior, which in
turn accentuates their perceptions of the oppositional nature of their dual cultural worlds.
Alternatively, we may find that the dissociation between mainstream and ethnic cultures
characteristic of low BII biculturals is an adaptive strategy; by compartmentalizing different
aspects of self-knowledge systems, individuals with low BII may be able to better protect
their self-esteem and positive mood (Linville, 1985; Pelham & Swann, 1989; Showers,
Although the present studies focus on the effects of BII and cultural priming on
attributional behaviors, we suspect that these findings can be replicated with other types of
behaviors and processes that have been shown to differ across cultures. For instance, there is
considerable research showing that people from East Asian and Western cultures differ in
their conceptualizations of the self (Heine & Lehman, 1997; Markus & Kitayama, 1991).
Indeed, recent research suggests that Chinese American biculturals emphasize collective
duties in their spontaneous self-concepts when primed with East Asian cues and emphasize
individual rights when primed with American cues (Hong et al., 2001). Thus, we would
expect individual differences in BII to affect the self-concepts of biculturals as well. For
example, high BIIs would show prime-consistent behaviors (emphasizing collective duties
Benet-Martínez et al. / NEGOTIATING BICULTURALISM 511
when primed with Asian cues and emphasizing individual rights when primed with Ameri
can cues), but low BIIs would show a reverse priming effect. Furthermore, the present study
examined one group of biculturals—Chinese Americans. Clearly, there are many other
groups of biculturals, and the current results should be replicated among other bicultural eth
nic groups as well.
Although the present studies and Hong et al.’s (2000) work on cultural frame switching
apply mainly to biculturals, monoculturals may also engage in frame-switching behaviors.
Indeed, individuals have multiple, opposing identities across dimensions other than culture.
For example, Shih, Pittinsky, and Ambady (1999) found that when given a gender prime,
U.S.-born Asian women did more poorly on math tests, reflecting the common stereotype of
women as being less proficient in math. However, when given a culture prime, they did better
on math tests, reflecting the common stereotype of Asians as being more proficient in math.
Similar to the immigrant Chinese American samples in the present studies, these Asian
American women embodied multiple identities based on their gender and ethnic groups. It is
possible that some Asian American women might see their ethnic and gender identities as
compatible, whereas others perceive the two identities as oppositional. In this sense,
biculturalism is not a phenomenon that is relevant only to immigrants or people with multiple
ethnic identities. Gender and ethnicity aside, race, religion, occupation, political affiliation,
sexual orientation, and peer group can all create important sources of social identity, and
each can create oppositional demands that individuals have to negotiate and integrate in their
socially categorized lives (Baumeister, 1999; Fordham & Ogbu, 1986; Kray et al., 2001).
The present article suggests several important implications for research and theory in
cross-cultural psychology. First, individual differences in cultural identity are important for
understanding the effects of culture on individual behaviors. Clearly, there are strong and
compelling cross-cultural differences in meaning systems. Yet how these meaning systems
are integrated, expressed, and used may vary greatly between individuals (Triandis, Leung,
Villareal, & Clack, 1985). Indeed, this article demonstrates that individual differences such
as degree of BII play a critical role in whether, how, and when cultural meaning systems are
used in everyday life.
Second, a lot of cross-cultural research promotes an understanding of culture as a uniform
and domain-general worldview. Individuals are categorized into one group or another, and
one’s membership in the group presumably does not change (see Wallace, 1961, for a classic
discussion of this issue). In the present studies, we demonstrated that biculturals possess dual
cultural perspectives, which can be “tried on” and applied at different situations and times.
They are independent under some situations, and interdependent under other situations; they
are individualistic at certain times and collectivistic at other times. Rather than an unmalle
able characteristic, cultural meaning systems may be better conceived as a set of tools indi
viduals have available to use in different situations according to their identity dynamics and
situational relevance. This perspective creates a more dynamic view of how culture and mind
are mutually constituted across and within national boundaries.
1. Other constructs in the literature that capture elements similar or related to this continuum are fusion
(Birman, 1994; Chuang, 1999), blendedness (Padilla, 1994; Phinney & Devich-Navarro, 1997), or bicultural com
petence (LaFromboise & Rowe, 1983) versus cultural homelessness (Vivero & Jenkins, 1999), alternating
biculturalism (Phinney & Devich-Navarro, 1997), and oppositional identities (Ogbu, 1993).
512 JOURNAL OF CROSS-CULTURAL PSYCHOLOGY
2. Similar to past research on attributions (see Hong et al., 1997, 2000), internal and external attributions about
the behavior of the single fish are conceptualized throughout our studies in terms of individual- versus group-based
3. English and Chinese language proficiency and usage were measured separately using the following items:
(a) language ability (e.g., rate your Chinese speaking ability), 1 item; (b) past and present language usage (e.g., how
much do you use/have you used Chinese to speak with your parents?), 4 items; and (c) media exposure (e.g., how
often do you read Chinese newspapers?), 2 items. The language-ability items were answered on 8-point scales rang
ing from 1 (very little ability)to8(very high ability); the rest of the items were answered on 8-point scales ranging
from 1 (almost never)to8(very often).
4. For a subsequently developed multi-item measure of bicultural identity integration (BII), see Benet-
Martínez and Haritatos (2002).
5. In a pilot study conducted prior to the present study, the above statements describing opposition between
Chinese and American cultures were tested with other statements describing compatibility between the cultures.
Ratings on these two sets of statements were highly and negatively correlated, indicating that measures of cultural
opposition and compatibility were largely interchangeable. At the same time, statements describing opposition
were normally distributed, whereas the statements describing compatibility were skewed to the right (this might
have been caused by the higher social desirability of these statements). Thus, the statements describing opposition
were used to measure BII in the present studies.
6. Identification with American or Chinese cultures is not identical to acculturation, a psychological construct
that also encompasses cultural values and practices, types of relationships, and language. It is important to note that
the present article focuses on biculturals’ level of integration between cultural identities, and as such, we focus on
identification rather than acculturation.
7. Despite its widespread use, Rosenthal and Rosnow (1992) argued that the traditional method of interpreting
interaction effects using means is misleading (see also Levin & Marascuilo, 1972). Because the means include both
main effects and an interaction (in a 2 × 2 design), an experimenter can accurately understand the interaction only
after removing the main effects from the means (and plotting these interaction residuals). For instance, a plot of the
means from Study 1 seems to suggest that the cultural priming affected the attributions of only high BIIs (and in the
hypothesized direction) when in fact, as the residual plot indicates, the priming also influenced the attributions of
low BIIs but in the reverse direction (also supporting our hypothesis).
8. Given the acculturation differences between low and high BIIs reported in Table 1 for Chinese proficiency,
English proficiency, and Chinese cultural identification, it is important to examine if these variables mediate our
Bicultural Type × Priming Condition interaction effects. Results from three separate 2 × 2 ANCOVAS (Bicultural
Type × Priming Condition), in which each of the previous acculturation variables was entered as a covariate, failed
to support such mediational effects. We further tested the contrast that the interaction effect was driven primarily by
a strong prime-consistent effectamong the high BIIs and no priming effect among the lowBIIs. The contrast was not
significant, F(1, 61) = 1.92, p = .17.
9. Intercorrelations for these four types of attributions are available from the authors upon request.
10. As we did in Study 1, we examined the possible mediational role of years lived in the United States and
China, age of migration, English and Chinese language proficiency, and U.S. and Chinese cultural identification on
our Bicultural Type × Priming Condition significant interaction effects. None of these variables significantly medi
ated the predicted interaction effect. We also tested the contrast that the interaction was driven primarily by a prime-
consistent effect among high BIIs and no priming effect among low BIIs: The contrast effect for all four dependent
variables was not significant (p > .15).
11. See Chiu, Morris, Hong, and Menon (2000) for an additional study in which an individual difference vari
able, need for closure (Kruglanski, 1989), moderates cultural effects.
12. Benet-Martínez and Haritatos’s (2002) recent study shows that independently measured perceptions of cul
tural distance and conflict correlate .56 and .64 with the single-itemmeasure of low versus highBII (Bicultural Iden
tity Integration Scale–Pilot Version [BIIS-P]) used in the present study. Although these associations do not shed
light on the issue of which components (conflict, distance, or both) are responsible for the contrast effects reported
in the present study, they suggest that the BIIS-P measures variations in both components.
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Verónica Benet-Martínez received her Ph.D. in social-personality psychology from the University of Cali-
fornia at Davis, and has been an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Michigan since 1998.
Her research activities are organized around the areas of biculturalism (socio-cognitive and personality
processes involved in the integration of two or more cultural identities, particularly for Hispanic and Asian
minority populations), representational aspects of culture (cultural priming, culture and perception of
social symbols), and culture and personal identity (identification and measurement of culture-specific and
general personality constructs).
Janxin Leu received her M.A. at Stanford University and is currently a social psychology doctoral student at
the University of Michigan. Her primary research interests include studying the influence of culture on rea
soning and emotions in immigrant Asian American populations and in cross-national comparisons between
European Americans and East Asians.
Fiona Lee is an associate professor of psychology and an associate professor of business at the University of
Michigan. She holds a Ph.D. in social psychology from Harvard University. Her research focuses on how
complex events are understood and communicated within organizations, and how these interpretations
affect working relationship, risk taking, learning, impressions, and performance.
Michael Morris received his Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Michigan. He was a faculty
member of the Stanford Graduate School of Business from 1992 to 2001. He is currently a profesor in the
Graduate School of Business and the Psychology Department of Columbia University. His early research
focused on the cognitive structures and processes involved in people’s intuitive understandings of events
and causal relationships. He continues to conduct research in on social and causal judgement, responsibil
ity assignment, justice assessments, and self-conceptions, as well as topics such as relationship networks in
work organizations. Recently, he has launched a major research program on the emotions and social judge
ments that determine people’s strategic decisions when resolving conflicts.
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