The multicultural personality refers to a constellation of traits, attitudes, and behaviors that predispose individuals to adapt successfully to culturally diverse environments. The conceptual roots of the multicultural personality can be traced to work in clinical psychology and counseling psychology in the United States and personnel psychology in the Netherlands. Manuel Ramirez, working in the southwest region of the United States, discussed the multicultural personality as a synthesis of the resources learned from different cultures that enable people to develop cultural flexibility in navigating their environments. Ramirez is a clinical psychologist, and his work focuses on helping clients develop bicultural coping and adaptation skills.
Writing from a counseling and positive psychology perspective, Joseph G. Ponterotto and colleagues discussed the multicultural personality in terms of its relationship to psychological well-being. Working with the general population, these authors hypothesized that given the rapidly changing demographic landscape of the United States, which is becoming an increasingly multicultural, multilingual society, those individuals who exhibited multicultural personality dispositions would adapt more successfully and embrace more fully the diverse components of society and therefore would experience a higher quality of life.
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While counseling and clinical psychologists in the United States were developing the construct of the multicultural personality, two researchers in the Netherlands, Karen Van der Zee and Peter Van Oudenhoven, working from the specialties of personnel and organizational psychology, were also conceptualizing a version of the construct. These researchers were interested in studying personality variables of corporate expatriates that predicted success (personal life satisfaction and work productivity) while living and working in a new country.
After an extensive review of the theory and research that possibly related to the multicultural personality, Ponterotto and his colleagues presented an integrated and comprehensive working definition of the construct. They defined the construct as multidimensional and inclusive of the following traits: emotionally stable, secure in one’s multiple identities (e.g., racial, gender, religious, ethnic), intellectually curious regarding novel cultures, culturally empathic, feeling centered with regard to spirituality, cognitively flexible, introspective, and committed to social justice.
Though a relatively recent construct, the multicultural personality appears to be correlated to a number of variables central to the work of counselors, namely, life satisfaction, work success, and quality of life. Research on the construct, however, is still in its early stages, and additional studies are needed before counselors can make any definitive conclusions regarding the importance of the construct or even its uniqueness relative to more global personality traits. At present, the most comprehensive assessment of the construct is the 91-item Multicultural Personality Questionnaire developed in the Netherlands by Van der Zee and Van Oudenhoven. If ongoing research continues to find that the multicultural personality is related to important life variables, then counselors and other mental health professionals will want to work toward assessing and then increasing their clients’ levels of multicultural personality development. The construct holds great promise for theory and research in counseling.
- Ponterotto, J. G., Utsey, S. O., & Pedersen, P. B. (2006). Preventing prejudice: A guide for counselors, educators, and parents (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Ramirez, M., III. (1999). Multicultural psychotherapy: An approach to individual and cultural differences (2nd ed.). New York: Pergamon Press.
- Van der Zee, K. I., & Van Oudenhoven, J. P. (2000). The Multicultural Personality Questionnaire: A multidimensional instrument of multicultural effectiveness. European Journal of Personality, 14, 291-309.