Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Educational, School, and Counseling Psychology

First Advisor

Dr. Jeff Reese


International students face a variety of challenges in their acculturation process. The acculturation process is a highly variable process that is influenced by the mediating and moderating effects of individual factors that exist prior to, or arise during, acculturation (Berry, 1997). Among the moderating personal factors existing prior to acculturation, adult attachment has received heightened attention as an important variable impacting the acculturation process and adaptation outcomes. Wang and Mallinckrodt (2006a) suggested that successful adaptation involves exploration of unfamiliar social situations that resemble the infants’ exploration of their physical surroundings. The acculturation process can be challenging and stressful because individuals going through this process often encounter disparities in various situations. Similar to infants, whose attachment system tends to be activated particularly in a distressing situation, threatening events or situations in one’s adult life also activate the attachment behavioral system of seeking proximity to attachment figures for security and support. Limited research has investigated the relationship between adult attachment and the acculturation processes (e.g., Brisset, Safdar, Lewis, & Sabatier, 2010; Sochos & Diniz, 2011). Previous research has highlighted a link between adult attachment (e.g., attachment styles and attachment security) and psychological adaptation. However, the relationship between adult attachment and international students’ other acculturation outcomes (e.g., sociocultural adaptation) remains unclear in the existing literature due to inconsistent previous findings. The current study addressed the gaps in the literature by focusing on international students’ acculturation processes and examined how adult attachment contributes to, or influences, their adaptation. Data was collected from 228 international students that are enrolled in higher education institutions in different geographic locations in the United States. Hierarchical multiple regressions were conducted for data analysis. The results suggest that attachment anxiety was a significant predictor of international students’ psychological adaptation. Attachment avoidance significantly moderated the effect of acculturation to the U.S. culture on international students’ psychological distress, while attachment anxiety was a marginally significant moderator for the effect of acculturation to the U.S. culture on sociocultural adaptation. Attachment avoidance also moderated the effects of physical assault and behavioral discrimination on international students’ self-esteem. Study limitations and future directions are discussed.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)