Sample Research Paper on Acculturation on Mexican-American Adolescents a

How the level of Acculturation on Mexican-American Adolescents affects them to Deal with Stress


The immigrant population in the United States is relatively large, and the Latino population represents 15% of the population (Pew Hispanic Center, 2006). There is an anticipated growth of this population, with projections from the U.S. Department of health and human services indicating that the Latino population will grow to 25% of the U.S. population by 2050 (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2001). Mexican-Americans who form part of this group are expected to grow in number too. What is alarming, however, is that only 57% of Latinos have completed high school, a small number as compared to the non-Latino whites, 89% of whom have completed high school (Ramirez & de la Cruz, 2003). Even as the number of Latino college students has increased briskly, only a few of them ever graduate, an indicator of retention and completion difficulties (Fry, 2002). In addition, the researchers have found that even the Latino students who graduate do so with low grades and hence experience difficulties in securing jobs (Ramirez & de la Cruz, 2003).

While factors, such as financial constraints and insufficient academic preparation have been proffered to explain these low graduation rates, many researchers have suggested that acculturative stress due to their minority status is the chief cause of the problem (Saldana, 1994) (Padilla, Alverez, &Lindholm, 1986). Despite the potential likelihood of acculturative stress being the cause of these difficulties, few studies have been carried out to examine whether indeed acculturation difficulties result in high-stress levels and consequently impact on academic performance. What is clear is that psychological stress has an adverse impact on educational outcomes as wellness of individuals. What is not clear is whether acculturation levels have an impact on psychological stress. The elucidation of the impacts of acculturation levels on psychological stress would be beneficial in the formulation of policies to aid in the smooth assimilation of immigrant students and, in particular, Mexican-American students into the culture of the new country. Moreover, it would be beneficial in therapy, healthcare, and in the improvement of the educational outcomes of these students. This study thus aims to find out whether the acculturation level has an impact on how immigrant Latino adolescents deal with stress, and how. In particular, it focuses on Mexican-American adolescents in a learning institution in the United States.

Studies of acculturative stress on Mexican-American adolescents are rare, but the few found on Latino adolescents offer a guideline for research. Previous research concludes that Latino adolescents exhibit more depressive symptoms than their non-Hispanic counterparts (Varela et al., 2004) (Roberts &Sobhan, 1992). In one study, it was found that acculturative stress leads to amplified intensities of general psychological misery even when other types of anxiety were controlled for (Rodriguez et. al, 2000). Many researchers have in the past presumed that as adolescents spend more time in the country the levels of acculturative stress will diminish and have hence utilized acculturation levels as a proxy for acculturative stress. While most of these studies have found a linear relationship between the two, some have found acculturative stress to be related, but distinct in construct to acculturation levels. Hovey and King (1996), for example, conducted an analysis of acculturative stress on Mexican-American adolescents and found that acculturation levels had no relation to acculturation stress levels. There is thus an inconsistency of findings on whether acculturation impacts on developmental health outcomes (Gil, Vega, & Dimas, 1994).

Besides the inconsistency of findings on whether acculturation levels are related to acculturative stress, some researchers have found a paradox that they refer to as the ‘immigrant paradox’ (Escobar &Vega, 2000). The paradox occurs whereby the most recent Latino immigrants, and who are believed to be at higher risk of environmental stressors, actually have lower stress levels than their more acculturated counterparts (Lara, Gamboa, Kahramanian, Morales, & Bautista, 2005). The two preceding phenomenon (immigrant paradox and the lack of empirical support linking acculturation to stress) constitute the biggest theoretical limitations to the novel study. Another limitation is that there is an ambiguity of meaning as acculturation and stress have various definitions over different platforms (Gordon, 1995). There are also issues in what aspects of acculturative stress to utilize with college students. Researchers differ on what they use, with some utilizing English-language proficiency and unfamiliarity with the cultural beliefs prevailing in a nation, others using societal self-consciousness measures, and yet others using the experience of conflicting value systems (Mena et al., 1987).

In light of the above studies and the enunciated limitations, this study aims to use sampling techniques to collect data on measurements that will be used to inform the decision whether indeed the level of acculturation impacts on how Mexican-American adolescents deal with stress. The aspect of acculturative stress to be used will include a combination of English-language proficiency and the experience of conflicting value systems. Pre-formulated measures of testing for these aspects will be utilized in this study, after which analysis will be done using statistical software.


Literature Review

Acculturation theory is a field that deals with how immigrant minority groups become acclimatized to a new surrounding and change and adapt to become like the majority group (Szapocznik&Kurtines, 1980). Acculturative stress is a type of psychological stress that occurs due to difficulties emanating from the acculturation progression (Williams & Berry, 1991). It arises due to a variety of issues such as contrasting cultural beliefs and practices, linguistic challenges, and discrimination (Gil, Vega, & Dimas, 1994). These experiences are particularly more pronounced in immigrants and are amplified by the fact that the immigrants have little support from family and close interpersonal relations. The disruption of social networks and attachments that individuals had formed in their previous culture imposes a daunting task of adaptation on these individuals in the new culture (Landale, Oropesa, Llanes, & Gorman, 1999). In addition, racism and discrimination due to one’s culture or inability to speak a language further accentuate the acculturative stress. These adverse effects are not only experienced in the present group of immigrants but also in later generations, including later generations of adolescents (Padilla et al., 1986).

As the notions of how life should be as presented by the dominant culture influence the immigrants, they start abandoning their way of life and the family unit also breaks down (Smart & Smart, 1995). This abandonment of the new way of life as they attempt to adopt as well as pressures on the family system lead to individuals experiencing pervasive feelings of loss of control and anxiety (Keefe, 1980). Adolescents are particularly at risk since it is at adolescence that most people attempt to develop their sense of identity and autonomy. These adolescents strive to adapt to the surrounding environment and adapt to the attitudes, behaviors, and dressing mode prevalent in the novel culture, but when faced with linguistic difficulties, unfamiliarity with the prevailing cultural practices, and conflicting value systems, they experience acculturative stress (Harris, 1995) (Mena et al., 1987).

General stress models articulate how the perception of a situation as intimidating or being beyond one’s capability to cope can result in feelings of stress (Cohen & Wills, 1985). Assimilation pressures, inadequate intercultural competence, and discrimination are beyond an adolescent’s capability to cope and are thus expected to result in negative emotions and distress, herein referred to as acculturative stress (Barlow, 2002). As individuals learn the new culture, beliefs, language, and way of life (acculturation), these assimilative pressures abate and the negative emotions diminish and are ultimately eradicated (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984).

Research Question:

How does the level of acculturation on Mexican-American Adolescents affect them to deal with stress?

Hypothesis: A high level of acculturation leads to lower stress levels while a low level of acculturation leads to high-stress levels.

Justification: The hypothesis is informed by the general models of stress and coping (including Lazarus & Folkman, 1984) and models of mental health among Mexican-Americans (e.g. Vega et al., 1985) that show how low levels of acculturation lead to assimilative difficulties that cause difficulties. It is expected that as the adolescents become accustomed to the new culture, these assimilative difficulties abate and the acculturative stress diminishes.


Participants and Procedure

The study was conducted at the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign. The University has approximately 32,000 undergraduate students, 9% of whom are Hispanic. The analysis was restricted to students of Mexican-American descent or origin. The analytic sample consisted of 117 9th and 10th graders (58 males; and 59 females). A majority of the respondents (74.4%) spoke English while 25.6% spoke Spanish. The respondents were recruited from school events during the Freshmen orientation, the Back to School Night, and the report card picks up. The recruitment involved putting up posters that requested Mexican-American and 10th graders to avail themselves to a tent to fill in their details so that they could be selected for a research study. The mother-adolescent dyads were then informed that if they completed and returned the questionnaires, they would receive $ 20 gift card for mothers and $10 gift cards for adolescents. Data was to be collected using the questionnaire method. A set of questionnaires containing the research questions was availed to the respondents to fill.

Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria

The study comprised of respondents whose parents had given written consent to participate in the study hence conformed eligibility. The inclusion criteria as determined by the parents report included respondents who: 1) were of Mexican-American descent or origin 2) were in the 9th or 10th grade 3) were able to read and write in either Spanish or English, or both. Exclusion criteria as determined by the parent reports included respondents who: 1) were not of Mexican-American descent or origin 2) were not in the 9th or 10th grade 3) were incapable of reading or writing in either English and Spanish or both. The control group consisted of adolescent non-Hispanics who were in the 9th or 10th grade, were able to read and write in either Spanish or English or both, and who were between the ages of 164 and 215 months.

Demographic variables

The respondents reported their age in years, their gender (0 for female, and 1 for males), their grade level (whether 9th grade or 10th grade), and their mother’s educational attainment (1 for elementary, 4 for those who had graduated from a two-year institution, and 7 for those who possessed a graduate degree). The bidimensional acculturation scale for Hispanics (BAS) that provides an acculturation score for the Hispanic and non-Hispanic domains was utilized in measuring language (Marin &Gamba, 1996). A modified version that split the “In general, what language do you read and speak?” was split into four to form an eight-item measure of the respondents’ language acculturation. The respondents had to rate their degree of proficiency with the Spanish language and English in different situations on a 4-point scale (1= very poorly, 2= poorly, 3= well, and 4= very well). They were to respond to their proficiency in speaking, reading, writing, and comprehending music.

Acculturative Stress variables

The multicultural events schedule for adolescents (MESA) developed by Gonzalez, Gunnoe, Jackson, and Samiango measures eight separate domains for stress. It includes items from COALES, GLESC, and adolescent life events checklist to identify reliably stress in adolescents. The measures fell in eight domains: family trouble/ change; family conflict; peer hassles/ conflict; school hassles; economic stress; perceived discrimination; language conflicts; and perceived violence/ personal victimization. Subscale items fell into four dimensions and encompass family trouble/change; family conflict; peer hassles/ conflict; and school hassles.

Human Subjects

Institutional review board approval was first obtained from the site and the University of Illinois before commencing. Parents also had to sign consent forms. All the respondents had to provide written informed consent before being selected for the exercise. Before the respondents were given the questionnaires to fill in, a brief debriefing was carried out. It entailed what the study was all about and asked the respondents whether any of them still wanted to leave the study. It also delineated how the questionnaire was to be filled as well as the minimum required set of answered questions (75%). It was reinforced that the data availed from the questionnaires would be confidential and would be used for data collection and analysis purposes only. Respondents who wanted to get a copy of the study results when delivery of their gift cards was being carried out were also requested to sign.

Analysis plan

The primary analysis comprised of a series of hierarchical multiple regression analysis for each of the dependent variables using statistical software. The MESA scores were first entered into an Excel spreadsheet. A simple regression analysis was then conducted to assess the statistical significance of the stress factors concerning the adolescent Hispanics and non-Hispanics. A multiple regression analysis was then done to analyze the correlation of the variables to one another. For the BAS test, it involved adding up the total number of entries for each of the eight measures of language acculturation. The results were then put into percentages for ease of inference.


The results of the MESA scale test are presented in diagram 1. Family trouble/change was negatively associated and was statistically significant for the adolescent Hispanics, but it was positively associated and statistically significant for the non-Hispanic adolescents. The family trouble was, however, not statistically significant for the other stress factors. Peer hassles were negatively associated and statistically significant for the Hispanic adolescents, and while it was also statistically significant for the non-Hispanic adolescents, the association was negative. It, however, was not statistically significant with the other stress factors but was highly correlated with violence. School hassles were statistically significant with both the adolescent Hispanics and non-Hispanics, and the associations were both negative. However, while its association with other stress factors was positive, it was not statistically significant.

Economic hassles were found to have a negative association that was statistically significant for the Hispanic adolescents, and while this association was also negative for the non-Hispanic adolescents, it was also statistically significant. The economic hassles had a significant association with family trouble/ change, but the association was not statistically significant.

Perceived discrimination was negatively associated and statistically significant for both the adolescent Hispanics and non-Hispanics. The perceived discrimination was highly correlated to peer hassles, language conflicts, and violence, but the association was not statistically significant.

Language conflicts had a positive association with the adolescent Hispanics that was statistically significant, but these language conflicts did not seem to occur in the non-Hispanic adolescents. Violence, on the other hand, occurred in both the Hispanic and non-Hispanic adolescents, and while the association was negative in the Hispanics, it was positive in the non-Hispanics.

The MESA total shows that the stress factors combined were statistically significant for both the Hispanic and non-Hispanic adolescents, and while they had a combined negative correlation for the adolescent Hispanics, the association was positive for the adolescent non-Hispanics of the control group. The total correlation among the stress factors was found to be statistically significant, indicating that the factors do not act in isolation with each other.

Diagram 1

Diagram 2 shows the number of respondents regarding gender. It can be seen that out of the 117 respondents selected for the study, 58 were males, and 59 were females. However, the gender results were missing for one female and one male. It also shows the language preferences of the respondents. Of the 117 respondents selected for the study, 87 preferred utilizing English, while 30 preferred using Spanish. Descriptive statistics analyzes the age of the adolescents in months. The respondents were between the age of 164 and 215 months, with the mean age being 184.15 months, and a standard deviation of 11.128 months was exhibited.

Diagram 2

The results are summarized in the following table

Table 1.

Descriptive statistics and intercorrelations for the study variables

Variable 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
1 Adolescent Hispanic
2 Adolescent bas non-Hispanic -.566*
3 Family trouble/ change -.219* .157
4 Peer hassles -.039 .028 .358**
5 School hassles -.023 -.059 .294** .351**
6 Economic hassles -.219* .170 .474** .333** .255**
7 Perceived discrimination -.036 -.030 .272** .494** .334** .204*
8 Language conflicts .181 -.360** .188* .236* .301** .262** .430**
9 Violence -.160 .121 .514** .600** .343** .309** .633** .343**
Mesa Total -.144 .062 .722** .779** .562** .611** .675** .478** .822**



The objective of the research was to find out how acculturation levels affect Mexican-Americans in dealing with stress. It was hypothesized that higher levels of acculturation lead to lower levels of stress while lower levels of acculturation result in higher levels of stress. In the study, the results obtained were aimed at fulfilling this objective and utilized general models of stress to make assumptions and link the variables to the hypothesis. The results manage to fulfill the hypothesis as explained below.

The results from the dataset show the findings for various stress factors as measured for both the adolescent Hispanics and adolescent non-Hispanics. Beginning with the family trouble/ change, it can be seen that the change was statistically significant in the adolescent Hispanics. It was expected that family conflict would occur more frequently in the immigrant population, but this is not the case. In fact, the family change occurred more frequently for the non-Hispanic adolescents. It is, however, seen that the change had a negative impact on the Hispanic adolescents, but a positive impact on the non-Hispanic adolescents. The reasoning is that for the Hispanics, a majority of the change presents numerous difficulties due to unfamiliarity and uncertainty as well as the lack of family or peer support.

Solberg and Villareal (1997) found that acculturative stress is lower for adolescents who experience more emotional support from peers and family. During periods of change and high stress, adolescents do benefit from social support, but this is dependent on mutual obligations for help and support. In most occasions, however, immigrant families place a high demand on adolescents to adopt to change, and this might add to the stress levels instead of mitigating it. Support from friends might depend on who the friends are and the quality and kind of support they provide (Schneider &Ward, 2003).

While a semblance of assessing the quality and level of support can be derived from an assessment of the responses from the peer hassles and school hassles and some elements from the family conflict, the assessment is only inferential and not direct. Moreover, it might be that while there was a disagreement with a friend (in the case of peer hassles), other friends might have come to rectify the situation, which would make the inference from the occurrence of the disagreement that peer support is lacking wrong.

Peer hassles were also found to have an adverse effect on the adolescent Hispanics than on the adolescent bas non-Hispanics, implying that peer hassles contribute to the stress levels, but their effect reduces as adolescents become more acculturated. These peer hassles affect or is affected by other stress factors such as violence and perceived discrimination, but from the study, it was inconclusive. Peer hassles were, however, seen to have no adverse effects on the stress levels of the adolescent non-Hispanics. Again, the reason for this phenomenon is that the non- acculturated Mexican-Americans feel a great need to relate and fit in, and, as a result, feel that they have to engage in activities (even those stressful to them) that will lead to them being viewed positively by their peers.

School hassles, on the other hand, led to increased levels of stress at all levels of acculturation. They, in fact, negate the hypothesis as school hassles led to higher levels of stress in the acculturated adolescent bas non-Hispanic respondents than in the non-acculturated Hispanic adolescents. The school hassles questions assessed whether the adolescents 1) were criticized by teachers or embarrassed in front of other students 2) had a disagreement with a teacher 3) failed in some school-related activity, and 4) changed schools. It is thus expected that the occurrence of the four assessed factors would impact acculturated students more since they have formed associations and friends, and hence have more to lose from being embarrassed in front of them, failing where their friends have succeeded, or being away from their long-term friends after changing schools.

Economic hassles also affected the non-acculturated Mexican-Americans more than they did the acculturated ones. The phenomenon is, however, not as a result of economic hassles having a direct effect on the non-acculturated Mexican Americans and no impact on the acculturated ones, but because economic difficulties are more prevalent in the new immigrant families than in the already established ones. Newly immigrated families have money problems, and most of the parents do not have well-paying jobs or any at all, and this is bound to take an emotional toll on their children.

Perceived discrimination had a relatively similar impact on the stress levels at all levels of acculturation. Racism cuts across all bounds, and might even lead to increased stress levels at higher levels of acculturation. Adolescents feel a need to relate and fit in, and when they perceive that this has not happened and especially when they are discriminated against due to their culture, the feelings of negative emotions are bound to exhibit themselves. This is because they realize that no matter how much they try to be ‘true Americans,’ they still are Mexican-Americans by default, and this cannot be changed.

Language conflicts were only present in the adolescents who were not acculturated but did not lead to increased levels of stress. Of the 117 respondents, only 30 stated that they preferred Spanish to English. As such, most of the respondents had proficiency in speaking English, and it might be that those who were criticized for speaking Spanish are the ones that prefer using it.

Lastly, violent acts were found to have an adverse effect on the non-acculturated group. The most plausible explanation for this is that at low levels of acculturation, the adolescents were new to witnessing violent acts being committed as it was not a part of their former culture, or they felt that these acts might be committed on them. At high levels of acculturation, however, the adolescents felt safer or had grown accustomed to witnessing violent acts and thus they had no adverse impacts on them.

Limitations and directions for the future

One of the study limitations is that it takes adolescent bas non-Hispanics as the control group. While the control group is obviously acculturated, it negates the motif of measuring the occurrence of stress at various acculturation levels for Mexican-Americans.

The chief limitation of this study, however, is its assumption that the occurrence of stressful factors automatically caused stress on the individuals. There is no measure of whether the stressful acts led to increases in the stress levels. It fails to account for the fact that individuals have different coping mechanisms, and thus the occurrence of stressful incidences does not automatically lead to stress. In future studies, measures for psychological functioning such as the 21-itme Beck Anxiety Inventory should be employed. Under this measure, respondents are asked to rate how much they have been bothered by the acculturative stress factors enumerated in the MESA scale in the past three months using a 4–point scale that ranges from (not bothered at all) to 4 (severely bothered). This system was informed by the Depression Scale developed by the Center for Epidemiological Studies that assesses the rate of recurrence of 20 anxiety symptoms during a one-week span (Radloff, 1977).

The failure to include a study of the levels of peer and parental support is also a major shortcoming of this study. The moderating effects of peer support cannot be ignored, as they have a huge bearing on how adolescents are affected by stress factors. The difference between the negative outcomes resulting from change for the Hispanic adolescents and the non-Hispanic adolescents might be that the non-Hispanics were availed more parental and peer support than the Hispanics. In future studies, therefore, the inclusion of a criterion for assessing the availability of parental and peer support is paramount since it affects the stress levels as well as the ability of the adolescents to cope with stress in future.

The study also fails to incorporate a measure of the coping mechanism that the adolescents utilized. Without this measure, it is difficult to answer the question of how the Mexican-American adolescents deal with stress. In future studies, therefore, a shortened version of the COPE inventory should be incorporated to enable the type of mechanisms that the respondents utilized in coping with the acculturative stress to be assessed. There are two coping strategies available; active and avoidant coping strategies; and respondents are required to indicate the regularity in which they utilize each of the strategies. In active coping, nine items that reflect how the respondents solve problems, plan for the problems, and reframe the problem positively are analyzed. In avoidant coping, negative ways such as behavioral disengagement, denial, and self-distraction are analyzed.

Besides the acculturative measures elucidated above, other directions for future research are informed by limitations of future studies as well as the knowledge gap that exists. The first recommendation entails incorporating contextual factors and qualitative accounts into future studies. Previous studies on acculturation and psychological distress on Mexican-American immigrant groups have yielded inconsistent and inconclusive findings, and this has been attributed to the single use of proxy measures in those studies. Unless proxy measures are supplemented with contextual factors and qualitative accounts in future studies, it will be difficult to comprehend how the acculturation process influences an individual’s adaptation and consequently the stress levels.

The second recommendation involves encompasses refining the acculturation indicators such as the MESA and BAS acculturation scales. These two measures as well as integrating cross-cultural literature on values such as collectivism, individualism, sociocentrism, and allocentrism will provide the basis for developing these measures of value and attitudes related to acculturation. Doing so entails first examining how these values are affected by acculturation levels in Mexican-Americans. The hypothesis of how immigration influences an individual’s cultural orientation as well as how the individual fuses the two cultures can then be tested to provide a basis on how individuals balance the diverse dimensions of culture in the acculturation process.

The last recommendation entails incorporating factors such as prior immigrating experiences, the immigration context, and the settlement context into future studies. The factors will enable us to comprehend how individuals enter the acculturation process as well as the factors that affect their acculturation. The move will also provide a more holistic view of the acculturation process than has been possible in the past. Marin and Gamba (2003) have found that while some values such as familism remain relatively constant through time, others like gender roles shift rapidly. There is thus a need to identify the mediator and moderator factors that impact on the acculturation experience, and this can only be done by incorporating these factors into future research exercises.

In reflection, past research has elucidated the numerous limitations that have plagued the bid to assess the acculturation process on Mexican-American adolescents as well as the development of stronger measures. There is a need to combine diverse methods including quantitative and qualitative techniques in creating a better knowledge base for comprehending the influences that affect the acculturation process. Extensive research needs to be done, and novel measures of assessment developed.


Besides its obvious shortcomings, the study is pivotal in delineating the occurrence of stress at various levels of acculturation. The results of the data analysis show a clear distinction between various stressful factors with an acculturated group as well as a non-acculturated group. The study also utilized a large sample (117 adolescents) that were evenly distributed regarding gender. Moreover, by using the MESA scale, various stressful factors can be assessed separately instead of lumping them into one big group. By so doing, it not only succeeds in fulfilling the research question but also provides data that can be utilized in many fields.


While the results support the hypothesis that at higher levels of acculturation Mexican-American adolescents have lower stress levels that are high at low levels of acculturation, it should be kept in mind that the data came from one site at the University of Illinois and that the data sample involved 117 adolescents. This sample is thus not representative of Mexican-American adolescents elsewhere, and this would require extensive studies with a wider geographic coverage. Statistically, however, the results are solid and can be utilized in many platforms as elucidated below.

The study results can be utilized in the formulation of policy. It has been shown that there is discrimination against immigrants and that racism is rife in school settings and against adolescents. The findings are thus useful in the enumeration of public policies geared to eradicating this vice and in so doing improving the emotional health of immigrant populations and the entire nation as well. Educational policies geared to assisting immigrant children acculturate as well as assist them in acquiring financial aid can also be informed by the study findings. Also, studies on acculturation as well as on other cultures can be included in the curriculum to enable students to be more accommodating, accepting, and informed of other cultures different from theirs. Lastly, the study findings are useful in therapy and healthcare, as practitioners will be better informed of the factors leading to stress. The knowledge can then be utilized in developing intervention mechanisms.


Very few previous studies have examined the Mexican-American adolescent population in the United States, and especially issues dealing with acculturation. The present study explored the relationship between acculturation levels and acculturative stress among Mexican-American students. In the study, it was hypothesized that higher levels of acculturation lead to low levels of stress, and low levels of acculturation lead to high levels of stress. The research utilized a sample of 117 students from the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign. These students were provided with questionnaires that had a list of questions intended to analyze the occurrence of stressful situations in their life. The overall findings showed that the students in the study group exhibited more stressful emotions than students in the support group. The findings hence suggest that the level of acculturation of Mexican-American adolescents does indeed impact on how they deal with stress.


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