[Proposal] Measuring Cultural Appropriation: What, Why, and How

Measuring Cultural Appropriation: What, Why, and How

Morgana Lizzio-Wilson, Kunalan Manokara, & Zahra Mirnajafi

  1. Flinders University, Australia
  2. University of Amsterdam, Netherlands
  3. The University of Queensland, Australia

In multicultural societies, the practice of borrowing from cultures one does not belong to is often contested and labelled colloquially as cultural appropriation. To date, cultural appropriation as a term has been utilized mostly in popular media (Oluo, 2006) and amidst the controversy and outrage aimed at celebrities who are caught wearing or using the symbols of other cultures (Twersky, 2019). There has been some theorizing about its conceptual underpinnings in the broader social sciences (Tsosie, 2002; Rogers, 2006). However, consensus has yet to be reached for a clear definition of cultural appropriation, and its connections to intergroup disrespect, power dynamics, and structural racism has been theorized but not empirically tested. This has led to an impoverished academic understanding of the construct validity and antecedents of cultural appropriation.

Aims of Present Research

The purpose of the present research is to construct and validate an empirical measure of cultural appropriation. This study is an extension of earlier work we have conducted using qualitative and quantitative data obtained from U.S. participants via two studies that focused on devising a data-driven definition of cultural appropriation ( what ) and identifying its antecedents ( why ). If successful, this grant will fund the third and final study in this package and focus on constructing and validating a measure of cultural appropriation ( how ).

This program of research will be the first to empirically examine the construct validity and correlates of cultural appropriation, and create a valid, reliable measure that can be adopted in future work examining the antecedents and consequences of appropriation. This work has the potential to inform our understanding of a commonly discussed but under-researched expression of prejudice, and integrate theorizing across multiple disciplines, including Psychology, Sociology, Cultural Studies, and Political Science.



White participants from the U.S. (expected n = 400) will be recruited via Prolific for a two-part longitudinal study. Each participant will complete two identical surveys with a one-month gap in between. Sample size was determined based on three factors: a stringent rule of thumb for scale construction (Maxwell, 2004; 1:20 item to participant ratio), the expectation of small correlations ( r = .20) in convergent validity tests (Faul et al., 2009), and average attrition rates for longitudinal research (Gustavson et al., 2012: approximately 30%).

We focus on ethnic majority participants because members of racial minorities are more likely to disapprove of appropriation (Mosley & Biernat, 2020) meaning that there should be more variation in acceptability among White people. We will also sample conservatives and liberals, as there may be differences in intergroup attitudes and beliefs between conservatives and liberals (Wilkins & Kaiser, 2014) which influence the perceived acceptability of cultural appropriation.

Design and Procedure

Measuring cultural appropriation. Participants will be asked to rate the perceived acceptability of 15 behaviors (e.g. “ how appropriate is it for you to… ”) using Likert-type scales ( 1 = Very Inappropriate; 9 = Very Appropriate ). These behaviors are drawn from the qualitative data we collected in Study 1, and point to actions where cultural symbols from a variety of communities are utilized (e.g. “wear a Native American headdress as a Halloween costume”, “purchase a bathmat with Buddha’s face on it” ). We will also intersperse additional actions that are generally deemed as acceptable (e.g. “visit the supermarket” ) and unacceptable (e.g. “kick a stray dog” ) as control behaviors.

Convergent and discriminant validity. Participants will complete measures of psychological entitlement (adapted from Campbell et al., 2004), social power (Galinsky et al., 2006), identifying as a global citizen (McFarland, Brown & Webb, 2012), cosmopolitan outlook (Cleveland & Laroche, 2007), and respect for other cultures (Chen & Starosta, 2000).

Analytic Strategy

Using established approaches in psychometrics (Boateng et al., 2018; John & Benet-Martinez, 2014), we will examine the internal reliability, test-retest reliability, as well as convergent and discriminant validity of our measure.

Internal reliability

The dimensionality of our scale will be examined with confirmatory factor analyses and follow-up tests of inter-item consistency. We will also calculate inter-member agreement indices (LeBreton et al., 2005: r wg(J)), expecting participants to cohere in their understanding of behaviors that constitute cultural appropriation.

Baseline contrasts

We will apply a Bayesian linear mixed modeling approach (Wagenmakers et al., 2018), to account for dependency in our responses and examine the degree to which clusters of items are similar to one another (evidence in support of the null). Three clusters will be evaluated: cultural appropriation items will be contrasted against everyday actions and harm-inducing behaviors. We predict that behaviors reflecting cultural appropriation will be significantly less acceptable than everyday actions, and just as inappropriate as harm-inducing behaviors.

Test-retest reliability

First, we will calculate Pearson correlations at both item-level and scale-level as an index of association between time points. Second, we will examine intraclass correlations between measurement points (Weir, 2005) to evaluate the extent to which scores would cohere between subjects across time points.

Discriminant and convergent validity

Structural equation modelling will be conducted, where collinearity between all measured scales can be accounted for (MacCallum & Austin, 2000). We expect our cultural appropriation measure to be positively associated with a sense of entitlement, but negatively associated with respect and appreciation for other cultures.


We obtained costing estimates from Prolific. We budgeted for a 12-minute study (which was a realistic estimate of how long participants should take) for 400 participants in survey one (GBP1.50/participant) and survey two (GBP2.00/participant) and included a bonus payment for Part Two to buffer against excessive attrition. Including the 36% service fee for participant recruitment from Prolific, we expect our study to cost GBP1,904 in total (survey one = GBP816.00; survey two = GBP = 1088.00) .


Upon completion of the project, we plan to publish these studies together in a high-impact research outlet (e.g., Psychological Science, Social Psychological and Personality Science ). We will also upload all study materials (including verbatim surveys), analysis code, and data sets underpinning our analyses to the project page on the Open Science Framework.


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