The Benefits of Biculturalism

People who move to a new place are often torn between assimilating to their new culture and staying in touch with their old one. Several studies suggest, however, that you can have your cake and eat it too. Not only that – walking the line between multiple cultures may actually confer several psychological benefits.

For example, a study published a couple months ago surveyed 574 Mexican teens in the United States. It found that those who were more bicultural (as opposed to those who identified more with one culture than the other) engaged in more prosocial behavior. The more bicultural teens also had more positive views of themselves and reported higher self-esteem.

Seeing as mental health and physical health tend to reinforce each other, it might not surprise you to learn that biculturalism appears to help the latter as well as the former.

A 2011 study found that how likely Asian Americans in California are to become obese depends on how acculturated they are. Specifically, those whose English proficiency has overtaken their proficiency in their family’s traditional language are more likely to be obese. Meanwhile, those who are less proficient in English and those who are highly proficient in both English and their other language are at lower risk of being overweight.

One advantage of being bicultural may be the ability to take the “best” of both cultures. A 2003 study showed that pregnant Mexican-American women who were more “selectively bicultural” – adopting specific health-related beliefs and practices from both cultures – were less stressed overall.

If that’s not enough, here’s one more benefit of being bicultural: creativity. Research published in 2012 found that people who identified with both their “home” and their “host” cultures scored higher on several measures of creativity compared with those who were were either assimilated to or separated from their host culture.

Rather than choosing between the traditional and the new, then, integrating both into your worldview can carry several benefits. From higher self-esteem to lower risk of obesity to higher creativity, being connected to multiple cultures can give both your mental health and your physical health a bicultural boost.

Image: Flickr/Quinn Dombrowski under CC BY-SA 2.0