A Longitudinal Study of Person-Culture Fit: Convergence of Mental Models
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The person-environment fit hypothesis argues that the match or fit between an individual and the environment predicts positive adaptation outcomes for the person. Unfortunately, the person-environment fit hypothesis has not received consistent empirical support in the context of cross-cultural adaptation due to lack of a clear conceptualization of fit and an appropriate measure of fit. This dissertation proposes to use the convergence of mental models, a dynamic constructivist approach, to conceptualize person-culture fit, and to use it as a viable mechanism for understanding cross-cultural adaptation processes. A cross-lagged structural equation model was developed to examine how cultural adaptability and host language proficiency lead to positive adaptation outcomes through the mediating roles of mental model convergence and mental model change. Participants were 126 sojourning Chinese students studying in the U.S. and 30 American students and professors who were friends of the Chinese participants. Data were collected from the Chinese participants at two points in time: shortly after they arrived in the U.S. and three months after the first round of data collection. Based on results from a pilot study, participants were asked to rate the dissimilarities between 10 concepts relevant to cross-cultural adaptation. An index of person-culture fit was generated by comparing each Chinese sojourner's mental space with the aggregated mental space of domestic American participants. In addition, the Chinese participants reported their level of cultural adaptability, English proficiency, amount of intercultural communication with host nationals, and psychological wellbeing. Results from the study showed that Chinese sojourners' psychological wellbeing declined about three months after their arrival, which is consistent with the U-curve model of culture shock. Results indicated that cultural adaptability affected cultural adjustment. Specifically, cultural adaptability affected the development of host identification and was positively related to the degree of mental model change. English proficiency affected cultural adjustment through its direct positive effect on the amount of intercultural communication and psychological wellbeing. Finally, person-culture cognitive fit had a positive influence on host identification and psychological wellbeing. The interpretations and implications of the results, the contributions and limitations of the study, and directions for future research, were discussed.