The Bennett scale, also called the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS), was developed by Milton Bennett. The framework describes the different ways in which people can react to cultural differences.
Organized into six “stages” of increasing sensitivity to difference, the DMIS identifies the underlying cognitive orientations individuals use to understand cultural difference. Each position along the continuum represents increasingly complex perceptual organizations of cultural difference, which in turn allow increasingly sophisticated experiences of other cultures. By identifying the underlying experience of cultural difference, predictions about behavior and attitudes can be made and education can be tailored to facilitate development along the continuum. The first three stages are ethnocentric as one sees his own culture as central to reality. Climbing the scale, one develops a more and more ethnorelative point of view, meaning that one experiences one’s own culture as in the context of other cultures.
By the fourth stage, ethnocentric views are replaced by ethnorelative views.
Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity
- Denial of Difference
- Individuals experience their own culture as the only “real” one. Other cultures are either not noticed at all or are understood in an undifferentiated, simplistic manner. People at this position are generally uninterested in cultural difference, but when confronted with difference their seemingly benign acceptance may change to aggressive attempts to avoid or eliminate it. Most of the time, this is a result of physical or social isolation, where the person’s views are never challenged and are at the center of their reality.
- Defense against Difference
- One’s own culture is experienced as the most “evolved” or best way to live. This position is characterized by dualistic us/them thinking and frequently accompanied by overt negative stereotyping. They will openly belittle the differences among their culture and another, denigrating race, gender or any other indicator of difference. People at this position are more openly threatened by cultural difference and more likely to be acting aggressively against it. A variation at this position is seen in reversal where one’s own culture is devalued and another culture is romanticized as superior.
- Minimization of Difference
- The experience of similarity outweighs the experience of difference. People recognize superficial cultural differences in food, customs, etc.,. but they emphasize human similarity in physical structure, psychological needs, and/or assumed adherence to universal values. People at this position are likely to assume that they are no longer ethnocentric, and they tend to overestimate their tolerance while underestimating the effect (e.g. “privilege”) of their own culture. In other words, as explained by the Canadian Center for Intercultural Learning, “people who adopt this point of view generally approach intercultural situations with the assurance that a simple awareness of the fundamental patterns of human interaction will be sufficient to assure the success of the communication. Such a viewpoint is ethnocentric because it presupposes that the fundamental categories of behavior are absolute and that these categories are in fact our own.”
- Acceptance of Difference
- One’s own culture is experienced as one of a number of equally complex worldviews. People at this position accept the existence of culturally different ways of organizing human existence, although they do not necessarily like or agree with every way. They can identify how culture affects a wide range of human experience and they have a framework for organizing observations of cultural difference. We recognize people from this stage through their eager questioning of others. This reflects a real desire to be informed, and not to confirm prejudices. The key words of this stage are “getting to know” or “learning.”
- Adaptation to Difference
- Individuals are able to expand their own worldviews to accurately understand other cultures and behave in a variety of culturally appropriate ways. Effective use of empathy, or frame of reference shifting, to understand and be understood across cultural boundaries. It is the ability to act properly outside of one’s own culture. At this stage, one is able to “walk the talk.”
- Integration of Difference
- One’s experience of self is expanded to include the movement in and out of different cultural worldviews. People at this position have a definition of self that is “marginal” (not central) to any particular culture, allowing this individual to shift rather smoothly from one cultural worldview to another.
In his theory, Bennett describes what changes occur when evolving through each step of the scale. Summarized, they are the following:
- From Denial to Defense: the person acquires an awareness of difference between cultures
- From Defense to Minimization: negative judgments are depolarized, and the person is introduced to similarities between cultures.
- From Minimization to Acceptance: the subject grasps the importance of intercultural difference.
- From Acceptance to Adaptation: exploration and research into the other culture begins
- From Adaptation to Integration: subject develops empathy towards the other culture.
- While this level may initially be interpreted as a higher level of sensitivity, it is actually consistent with the dualistic thinking characterized by this stage where one culture is seen as good and another culture as bad. In this case, however, it is one’s own culture that is seen as bad and another’s culture that is seen as good; neither culture is valued in its own right.
- Bennett, M. J. (2004). Becoming interculturally competent. In J.S. Wurzel (Ed.) Toward multiculturalism: A reader in multicultural education. Newton, MA: Intercultural Resource Corporation. (Originally published in The diversity symposium proceedings: An interim step toward a conceptual framework for the practice of diversity. Waltham, MA: Bentley College, 2002). Additional information at www.idrinstitute.org
- Bennett, M. J. (1993). Towards ethnorelativism: A developmental model of intercultural sensitivity (revised). In R. M. Paige (Ed.), Education for the Intercultural Experience. Yarmouth, Me: Intercultural Press.
- Bennett, M. J. (1986). A developmental approach to training intercultural sensitivity. in J. Martin (Guest Ed.), Special Issue on Intercultural Training, International Journal of Intercultural Relations. Vol 10, No.2. 179-186.