Getting the most out of living abroad: biculturalism and integrative complexity as key drivers of creative and professional success

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2012 Sep;103(3):520-42. doi: 10.1037/a0029360. Epub 2012 Jul 23.


The current research investigated how patterns of home and host cultural identification can explain which individuals who have lived abroad achieve the greatest creative and professional success. We hypothesized that individuals who identified with both their home and host cultures (i.e., biculturals) would show enhanced creativity and professional success compared with individuals who identified with only a single culture (i.e., assimilated and separated individuals). Further, we expected that these effects would be driven by biculturals' greater levels of integrative complexity, an information processing capacity that involves considering and combining multiple perspectives. Two studies demonstrated that biculturals exhibited more fluency, flexibility, and novelty on a creative uses task (Study 1) and produced more innovations at work (Study 2) than did assimilated or separated individuals. Study 3 extended these findings to general professional outcomes: Bicultural professionals achieved higher promotion rates and more positive reputations compared with assimilated or separated individuals. Importantly, in all 3 studies, integrative complexity mediated the relationship between home/host identification and performance. Overall, the current results demonstrate who is most likely to achieve professional and creative success following experiences abroad and why.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acculturation*
  • Achievement*
  • Adult
  • Career Mobility
  • Creativity*
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison
  • Culture*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological
  • Problem Solving / physiology*
  • Psychological Tests
  • Social Identification*
  • Young Adult