Difference Between Acculturation and Assimilation

Every society has a culture. But culture is constantly changing. Culture depends on various factors and circumstances which determine the dynamics of culture. The two main dynamics of culture are acculturation and assimilation. Though both the factors seem similar, they have distinct differences.

Acculturation vs Assimilation

The main difference between acculturation and assimilation is that acculturation Involves two-way transfer of cultures while assimilation involves the one-way transfer of culture. Acculturation requires positive orientation towards a group while assimilation does not require positive orientation.

Acculturation vs Assimilation

Acculturation is a fast-paced process and can lead to cohesion and disruption between the two societies changing. Acculturation does not necessarily bring internal change. The dominant group plays a vital role of power in acculturation. The presence of a dominant force can also be regarded as forced acculturation in certain cases.

On the other hand, assimilation is a gradual process and is unidirectional. Assimilation brings about internal change. Assimilation does not involve prominent dominant groups and hence the power of dynamics is solely dependent upon the change.

Comparison Table Between Acculturation and Assimilation

Parameters of comparison AcculturationAssimilation
Definition It is the process of acquiring another culture called “second culture” and effect the societies changing It is the process of interpenetrating and fusing persons or groups into common cultural life by acquiring other attributes
Nature Bidirectional process Unidirectional process
Models Segregation, Integration, Assimilation and Marginalization Indigenous assimilation, immigrant assimilation, forced assimilation, and voluntary assimilation
Effect Can lead to coercion and disruption Can lead to gradual change and is mostly consciously internalized
Example Acculturation of Native American children who studied in Boarding school, or change in the culture of the community of South Asian after Colonialism Indigenous groups during the period of colonialism especially during 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, or assimilation is during Spanish Inquisition

What is Acculturation?

Acculturation refers to the process of change in the cultural, social, and psychological domain of any society which has been prevailing and has been balancing other cultures. Acculturation can also refer to the process by which an individual adjusts, acquires, and adopts to some other cultural environment that is completely new.

The individual can incorporate and participate in the new environment yet hold on to the existing original values, traditions, and cultures. There are multiple levels of cultivation right from the devotee of prevailing culture to those who are assimilating into other cultures. The four major essential paradigm forms of acculturation are Segregation, Integration, Assimilation, and Marginalization. Acculturation can also affect religious practices, social institutions, healthcare, and cultural changes.

Acculturation at the individual level is the process of socialization of foreign-born individuals to blend other customs, values, cultural attitudes, norms, and behaviors. The process impacts daily behavior as well as the psychological well-being of the individual. Acculturation can occur over a large period and grow roots over a few generations. There are over a hundred theories of acculturation by several scholars.

Numerous scholars of fields like anthropology, psychology, and sociology have tried to define and describe the various elements of acculturative processes. Some major conceptual models and theories of acculturation are “Theory of Dimensional Accrual and Association”, “Kramer’s theory”, “Fourfold model or Bilinear Model” and several others.

What is Assimilation?

Assimilation refers to the process by which a group or culture of minority form resembles, assimilates, and assumes the values, beliefs, and behaviors of another group which can be in full or partial form. Assimilation is most common in a multicultural community. The minority group adopts the various aspects of the culture which is dominant through cultural diffusion or social norms.

Assimilation is further divided into two main types -voluntary assimilation and involuntary assimilation. Assimilation can also refer to the expansion of the existing cultural aspects and not completely replacing the ancestral culture. This is referred to as “so-called additive assimilation”. Assimilation is a change that can be quick or gradual and solely depends on the circumstances. The change brought about in the original culture can be through contact and communication.

Assimilation broadly focuses on indigenous assimilation and immigrant assimilation. To assess immigrant assimilation, there are four primary benchmarks called – socioeconomic status, second language attainment, geographic distribution, and intermarriage. Immigrant assimilation is considered as the way to understand the dynamics of American Society.

Assimilation can be spontaneous as well as forceful. Examples of forced assimilation are Indigenous groups during the period of colonialism especially during the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries while an example of voluntary assimilation is during Spanish Inquisition. There is no guarantee of social alikeness in society through assimilation.

Main Differences Between Acculturation and Assimilation

  1. Acculturation operates on an individual or minority group while assimilation operates on a minority group or culture.
  2. Acculturation may or may not retain the original culture while assimilation retains the original culture.
  3. Acculturation is influenced by the dominant power structure while assimilation is not influenced by any dominant power structure.
  4. Acculturation can be voluntary or forced and has a bidirectional nature while assimilation occurs gradually and naturally and has a unidirectional nature.
  5. Acculturation does not require acceptance from the outgroup while assimilation requires acceptance from the outgroup.


Both the processes are dynamic. Both the processes have a common characteristic as they can affect an individual as well as on a group level. Both the processes take place through direct contact and none of the processes can occur without direct contact of one community or society with another.

Acculturation is an independent process while assimilation is dependent on acculturation. Apart from the relatedness and similarities, both the processes have distinct differences and function in different ways. There are several examples from the history, of both the processes and their impacts on a larger scale.

Both the processes occur at a different pace. Depending upon the presence of an outer dominant group, acceptance from out-groups, positive orientation, effect, models, nature, and other factors can distinctly define the processes and their effect on the society, culture, and ultimately every individual.


  1. https://search.proquest.com/openview/a8ef502fc936c070f71c769a2e5da3ae/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=1816420
  2. https://anthrosource.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1525/ae.1974.1.2.02a00090
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