Date of Award

Summer 2002

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Franzoi, Stephen

Second Advisor

Neilson, Kristy

Third Advisor

Saunders, Stephen


This investigation explores the relationship between acculturation and cognitive ability test performance. After reviewing the current theories of acculturation, the current understanding of the American culture and the ongoing debate about the outcome of quantifying human cognitive ability, a number of hypotheses were proposed. The main hypothesis was that higher degrees of acculturation to the American culture would be related to improved verbal and nonverbal cognitive ability test performance. It was also hypothesized that stigmatized minority students would do best on the tests of cognitive ability when they were bicultural, acculturated to both the American culture as well as to their culture of origin. Acculturation was also hypothesized to enhance the already established relationships between extrinsic motivation, intrinsic motivation, and predicted performance with test performance. These hypotheses were tested with a culturally diverse sample of high school students from the Chicago area. Students were asked to complete measures of verbal and nonverbal ability and then complete questionnaires assessing their academic motivation, acculturation, and performance expectations. The results demonstrated a small but significant relationship between acculturation to American culture and verbal test performance and, for minority students, a small but significant relationship between being bicultural and their verbal test performance. These relationships were not demonstrated when students' nonverbal test performance was explored. The results also did not support the hypotheses that higher degrees of acculturation to the American culture would enhance the relationships between intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation, and performance expectations with test performance. An emphasis is made to understand the real-world meaning of the small relationship between acculturation and test performance. The findings are also understood to represent a possible alternative explanation to the genetic-biological explanation of the performance gap that has been repeatedly observed in the test scores of people from different cultural or ethnic backgrounds. Importantly, should higher degrees of acculturation to the American culture be repeatedly found to be associated with better test performance, then the interpretation of those scores would have to reflect the cognitive ability tests' connection to the culture in which it is derived and used. The need for replication of these results is essential, however, before the real influence of American acculturation on cognitive ability test performance can be known.



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