by Dr. Milton J. Bennett, Member of the AFS Intercultural Education Advisory Council
The Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS) is widely accepted as a research-based intercultural communications model. Although the concepts behind the model are sophisticated, this article, written by the model’s author, Dr. Milton Bennett, presents them in a straight-forward and easy to understand manner. We are grateful to the author for his permission to reprint this article.
To help bring the model to life, Julien Peyre of AFS France shares delightful illustrations of the various stages. The original French version of this illustration as well as a French and Spanish translation of this article is available, too. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS) was created by Milton J. Bennett, Ph.D., (1986, 1993) as a framework to explain the reactions of people to cultural difference. In both academic and corporate settings, he observed that individuals confronted cultural difference in some predictable ways as they learned to become more competent intercultural communicators. Using concepts from cognitive psychology and constructivism, he organized these observations into six stages of increasing sensitivity to cultural difference.
The underlying assumption of the model is that as one's experience of cultural difference becomes more complex and sophisticated, one's competence in intercultural relations increases. Each stage indicates a particular cognitive structure that is expressed in certain kinds of attitudes and behavior related to cultural difference. By recognizing the underlying cognitive orientation toward cultural difference, predictions about behavior and attitudes can be made and education can be tailored to facilitate development into the next stage.
The first three DMIS stages are ethnocentric, meaning that one's own culture is experienced as central to reality in some way.
The second three DMIS stages are ethnorelative, meaning that one's own culture is experienced in the context of other cultures.
The DMIS has been used with great success for more than 20 years to develop curriculum for intercultural education and training programs. Content analysis research has supported the relevance of the stage descriptions and has suggested that a more rigorous measurement of the underlying cognitive states could yield a powerful tool for personal and group assessment.
Reprinted with permission from the Intercultural Learning Work Group. This article first appeared in the AFS Intercultural Link, the quarterly newsletter on intercultural learning in the AFS Network.