URC

A Validation of the African American Acculturation Scale
in a Sample of African American College Students

Pamela A. Smith, BSW Student
Safiya R. Omari,* PhD
Jackson State University, School of Social Work


Acculturation has recently become a variable of interest for researchers investigating culture as a possible explanation of a number of factors, ranging from differences in learning styles to disparities in health and mental health. Acculturation has also been investigated in conjunction with other factors such as neuropsychological test performance (Manly, 2004), mental health attitudes and service use (Alvidrez, 1999), alcohol consumption and AIDS-related risky behaviors (Hines, Snowden, & Graves, 1998) and eating attitudes and body image (Akan & Grillo, 1995; Smith & Omari, 2005). However, similar to many other psychosocial constructs, acculturation has proven difficult to define and operationalize. Several measures have been validated and used in the research literature, but questions have been raised about the psychometric properties of these scales.

Landrine and Klonoff (1996), the developers of the African American Acculturation Scale (AAAS), loosely define the term acculturation as the extent to which ethnic-cultural minorities participate in cultural traditions, values, beliefs, and practices of their own culture versus those of the dominant “White” society. Using a simple approach to the concept, acculturation can be thought of as a continuum from traditional to acculturated. Traditional people are individuals who remain immersed in many of the beliefs, practices and values of their own culture. At the other end of the continuum are acculturated people, who have rejected the beliefs and practices of their culture of origin in favor of those of the dominant White society or have never learned their own culture’s traditions (Landrine & Klonoff, 1996). In the middle are bicultural people, who have retained some of the beliefs and practices of their own culture (their culture of origin) but also have assimilated some of the beliefs and practices of the dominant White society and so may comfortably participate in two very different cultural traditions simultaneously.

Literature Review

As stated previously, acculturation has been investigated in conjunction with a number of physical, social and psychological variables. In a study of weight concern and body image among southern African American Females, Smith and Omari (2005) hypothesized that there would be a positive relationship between cultural values (levels of acculturation) and Body Mass Index (BMI) in their sample. The premise of their study was that African American women with more traditional values would have higher BMI scores, primarily because it has been reported in the literature that African American women are comfortable with larger body size (Striegel-Moore et al., 1998). The hypothesis was not supported. They found that contrary to their expectations, acculturation was not significantly associated with BMI in African American females.

This failure to detect an association between BMI and acculturation led to a question about the latent factor structure of the African American Acculturation Scale (AAAS-R) in African American college students and generated the research questions for this study. Additionally, it was noted by the researchers that the scale was normed primarily on African Americans in the North, raising questions about the possibility of regional differences in acculturation among African Americans. Thus, the research questions in this study emerged from the earlier obesity study conducted by Smith and Omari (2005).

Landrine and Klonoff (1996) also reported that scores on the AAAS-R were associated with symptoms of psychopathology as measured by the Hopkins Symptoms Checklist, thus providing some evidence that the scale may provide some indication of psychological well-being. It has been reported in the literature that many minorities express psychological problems through behaviors that are different from those of dominant society, thus, there is reason to believe that there may be a positive relationship between cultural values and psychiatric symptoms such as alterations in thinking, mood or behavior that is not actually indicative of more psychopathology in these groups ( Alvidrez, 1999).

For example, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2001) reported that African Americans experience more culture-bound syndromes such as isolated deep sleep paralysis, an inability to move while falling asleep or waking up and falling out preceded by dizziness. Moreover, they also reported that African Americans are less likely to suffer from common mental illnesses such as major depression, however, they are more likely to suffer from phobias and somatization than non-Hispanic whites. Additionally, their report indicated that African Americans tend to be diagnosed more frequently with schizophrenia and less frequently with affective disorders. These findings may indeed be due to a lack of understanding of how culture may affect the reporting of psychiatric symptoms and diagnoses. An understanding of the mechanisms through which cultural values affect psychological well-being may help professionals make more appropriate diagnoses and develop culturally competent treatment methods in the future. Accordingly, the researchers are interested in examining the factor structure of the AAAS-R in a group of African American college students and examining its relationship with symptoms of psychological distress.

Research Questions
  1. What is the latent factor structure of the AAAS-R in a sample of African American college students?
  2. Is the AAAS-R associated with the psychiatric symptom dimensions of the Hopkins Symptoms Checklist in this sample?
Methods
Sample

A sample of 63 undergraduate students in Mississippi was recruited from social work classes at a Historically Black University in the Deep South. The researcher obtained permission from social work instructors to visit classes and solicit voluntary participants to complete the questionnaire. The instructors agreed to give students extra credit points for completing the questionnaire.

Demographic information such as age, marital status, employment and education, and self-report information was obtained. Of the 59 responses, there are six males and 53 females. Freshmen represented 8.1%, sophomores represented 17.7%, juniors represented 27.4%, 19.4% were seniors and 24.2% were graduate students. The mean age is 24. Single people represent and 80.6% of the population, 12.9% are married and 12.9% reported being separated or divorced. Only 32.3% are full-time students while 54.8% are employed and attending school.

Concerning their mother’s education, 9.7% of the participants reported that their mother had less than a high school education, 21.0% reported that their mother had a high school diploma/GED, 3.2% reported that their mother did not have education beyond vocational/technical school, 25.8% said their mother had some college, 24.2% said their mother had a college degree, 3.2% said their mother had some graduate school and 9.7% said their mother had a graduate/vocational degree.

Concerning their father’s education, 9.7% of the participants reported that their father has less than a high school education/GED, 38.7% reported that their father had a high school diploma/GED, 1.6% reported that their father did not have education beyond vocational/technical school, 16.1% said their father had some college, 16.1% said their father had a college degree, 1.6% said their father had some graduate school and 1.5% said their father had a graduate/vocational degree.

Procedures

Participants completed a questionnaire packet containing measures of self-esteem, acculturation, somatization, obsessive compulsiveness, interpersonal sensitivity, depression and anxiety. The researcher administered the questionnaires and participants completed the questionnaire during class.

Measures

Self-Esteem. The Rosenberg Self-esteem Scale (RSES) (Rosenberg, 1965) was used to assess levels of personal self-esteem. This 10-item measure has been used extensively as a uni-dimensional measure of self-esteem and is considered to be very reliable. High scores indicate high levels of self-esteem. Sample items are: "I take a positive attitude toward myself," and "I feel I do not have much to be proud of." Response options ranged from 1 = strongly disagree to 4 = strongly agree. The internal consistency of the scale was good, alpha = .86.

Acculturation. Acculturation was measured using the African American Acculturation Scale (Landrine & Klonoff, 1996), which consists of 47 items designed to assess the extent to which African Americans remain immersed in the traditional cultural values, beliefs, and behaviors of their ancestors. According to the authors of the scale, traditional individuals, or those with low levels of acculturation have not adopted or accepted the values of the larger dominant society. Sample items for this scale are: “I know how to play bid whist” and “Old people are wise.” Response options on the scale ranged from 1 = I totally disagree/not true at all to 7 = I strongly agree to/absolutely true. Higher scores indicate that the participant has traditional views. Lower scores indicate the participant acculturated. The internal consistency of the scale was alpha = .88.

HSCL-53 Symptom Dimensions. The items comprising the somatization dimension reflect distress arising from perceptions of bodily dysfunction. Complaints focused on cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, respiratory, and other systems marked with autonomic medications are included. Headaches, pain, and discomfort localized in the gross musculature and other somatic equivalents of anxiety are also represented.

The items that form the obsessive-compulsive dimension reflect symptoms that are closely identified with the clinical syndrome of this name. This dimension focuses on thoughts, impulses, and actions that are experienced as unremitting and irresistible by the individual, but are of an ego-alien or unwanted nature. Behaviors indicative of more cognitive difficulty also load on this measure.

The symptoms are fundamental to interpersonal sensitivity on feelings of personal inadequacy and inferiority, particularly in comparison to other persons. Self-deprecation and uneasiness and marked discomfort during interpersonal interactions are characteristic manifestations, as are acute self-consciousness and negative expectancies regarding interpersonal communication.

Scales subsumed under the depression dimension reflect a broad range of the concomitants of a clinical depressive syndrome. Symptoms of dysphoric mood and affect are represented as are signs of withdrawal of life interest, lack of motivation, and vital energy. Feelings of hopelessness of and futility as well as other cognitive and somatic correlates are also included.

The anxiety dimension is comprised of a set of symptoms and behaviors associated clinically with high manifest anxiety. General indicators such as restlessness, nervousness and tension are represented, as are additional somatic signs, e.g. trembling. Items touching on free-floating anxiety and panic attacks are also included.

Data Analysis

Data were analyzed using descriptive and correlational measures. Additionally, the researcher used Principle Components Analysis, a multivariable procedure, to detect the underlying factor structure of the measure in the sample. Correlation analysis was used to assess the association between acculturation, self-esteem, and HSCL-53 Symptom Dimensions.

Results

A Principle Components Analysis was conducted to determine the underlying latent structure of the AAAS-R in this sample. The factor structure of the AAAS-R in this sample was relatively consistent with the factors reported by Landrine and Klonoff (2000). The factor analysis revealed eight factors and the content of those factors was comparable to Landrine and Klonoff’s. Therefore the scale did retain its factor structure in this sample.

To examine the relationships among the AAAS-R and psychiatric symptoms, a correlation analysis (Pearson’s r) was performed. Positive correlations were found between highly traditional cultural beliefs and all of the symptoms outlined by the HSCL-53 with the exception of obsessive compulsiveness (see Table 1).

Table 1
Correlations among Acculturation Scores, Self-Esteem and HSCL-53 Symptom Dimensions

Self Esteem

Obsessive Compulsive

Interpersonal Sensitivity

Anxiety

Somatization

Depression

.14

.24

.32*

.28*

.37**

.25*

However, the researchers noted that although self-esteem was negatively correlated with all of the symptoms, it was positively correlated with high traditional values (see Table 2). This finding piqued the researchers’ interest in the significance of self-esteem as a possible moderator of the relationship between acculturation and HSCL-53 symptom dimensions. Therefore a median split of the sample was performed based on levels of self-esteem forming two groups: high self-esteem and low self-esteem. Using the split sample, correlations (Pearson’s r) between the acculturation scores and the HSCL-53 symptom dimensions were run again.

Table 2
Correlations among Self-Esteem, Acculturation and HSCL-53 Symptom Dimensions

Acculturation

Obsessive Compulsive

Interpersonal Sensitivity

Anxiety

Somatization

Depression

.14

-.25

-.31*

-.40**

-.19

-.43**

The researchers found that that the previously statistically significant positive correlations between the HSCL-53 symptom dimensions and traditional values were reduced to practically nothing in the high self-esteem group, with the exception of the somatization dimension, r (63) = .28 (see Table 4). The statistically significant positive correlations between traditional values and the HSCL-53 symptom dimensions not only remained significant, but were magnified in the low self-esteem group (see Table 3).

Table 3
Correlations among Low Self-Esteem Group, Acculturation and HSCL-53 Symptom Dimensions

Obsessive Compulsive

Interpersonal Sensitivity

Anxiety

Somatization

Depression

.44*

.56**

.50**

.45**

.44*

Table 4
Correlations among High Self-Esteem Group, Acculturation and HSCL-53 Symptom Dimensions

Obsessive Compulsive

Interpersonal Sensitivity

Anxiety

Somatization

Depression

-.03

.03

-.02

.28

.05

Thus, the researchers concluded that self-esteem moderates the effects of tradition on psychological well-being in this sample. Self-esteem is the moderating variable that was buffering the relationship between traditional values and psychological well-being.

Discussion

The researchers did not find any major inconsistencies in the underlying latent factors of the AAA-S in this sample. Further, findings also revealed a positive relationship between AAAS-R scores and scores on the HSCL-53. The researchers theorize that the significant positive correlations between traditional values and the symptom dimensions may be another psychosocial effect of oppression and/or the result of using a measure that does not take into account cultural differences in the reporting of psychiatric symptoms. If an individual has highly traditional values and low self-esteem, and perceives that society devalues their traditional values, this perception may lead to the development of the symptoms outlined by the HSCL-53. Also, cultural phenomena may be misinterpreted as psychopathology. However, the findings of this study indicate that high self-esteem may serve as a buffer in the traditional values/psychiatric symptom dimensions relationship. Otherwise, negative societal input and devaluation of traditional Black culture may be deleterious to an individual’s psychological well-being.

Implications for Practice

This study shows the need for cultural competency in practice. Cultural competence suggests that awareness of cultural trends will better equip providers to effectively serve cross-cultural populations in their practice. The lack thereof may contribute to misdiagnosis of mental illnesses. Misdiagnosis may lead to inappropriate treatment plans and medications. Ultimately, any degree of uncertainty a provider may have relative to the condition of a client may contribute to overall disparities in the delivery of services (Institute of Medicine, 2002).

Limitations

There are two major limitations to this study: the homogeneity and size of the sample. There were only 63 participants. All of the participants were social work students with very similar demographics. Therefore these findings are non-generalizable. A larger, more diverse sample might have made this study more applicable to a broader population.

Future Research

The researcher sees the need for further investigation of variables that moderate the relationship between acculturation and psychological well-being.


References

Akan, G., Grilo, C. Sociocultural Influences on Eating Attitudes, Body Image, and Psychological Functioning: A Comparison of African American, Asian American, and Caucasian College Women. (1995, Sep). International Journal of Eating Disorders

Alvidrez, J. Ethnic Variations in Mental Health Attitudes and Service Use Among Low- Income African American, Latina, and European American Young Women. (1999, Dec). Community Mental Health Journal

Berry, J. Immigration, Aculturation, and Adaptation. (1997, Jan). Applied Psychology: An International Review

Berry, J., Kim, U., Power, S., Young, M. Acculturation attitudes in Plural Societies. (1989, Apr). Applied Psychology: An International Review

Hines, A., Snowden, L., Graves, K. Acculturation, Alcohol Consumption, and AIDS- related Risky Behavior among African American Women. (1998). Women Health

Landrine, H. & Klonoff, E. A. African American Acculturation-Revised (2000).

Manly, J. Byrd, D., Touradji, P., Stern, Y. Acculturation, Reading Level, and Neuropsychological Test Performance among African American Elders. (2004). Applied Neuropsychology

Mental Health: Culture, Race and Ethnicity – Fact Sheets (n.d.). Retrieved June 14, 2005, from http://www.mentalhealth.org/cre/fact1.asp

Minority Health Disparities at a Glance. (2004, July 12). Retrieved June 14, 2005, from http://raceandhealth.hhs.gov/glance.htm

Smith, P.A. & Omari, S.R. Weight concern and Body Image Among Southern African American Females-Unpublished Manuscript. (2005). Jackson State University

Unequal Treatment: What Health Care Providers Need to Know About Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care. (2002, March). Institute of Medicine

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2001). Mental Health: Culture, Race and Ethnicity A Supplement to Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General – Executive Summary. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Office of the Surgeon General


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