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Using the Intercultural Development Inventory to Assess Liberal Arts Outcomes

What is measured?

The Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) is a short paper-and-pencil survey that measures an individual’s awareness of and sensitivity to cultural differences. Based on Bennett’s Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS) [1, 2], the IDI generates an individual or group profile that corresponds to a particular stage of intercultural development, ranging from ethnocentrism, in which one’s own culture is experienced as central to reality, to ethnorelativism, in which one’s own culture is experienced in the context of other cultures.

Are liberal arts outcomes measured?

The IDI tracks an individual’s movement from rigid and dualistic ("black and white") thinking patterns to more complex cognitive processes characterized by openness, flexibility, and the ability to incorporate multiple perspectives into one’s worldview.


The IDI can be used to assess students at both the undergraduate and graduate level.


A liberal arts education can occur when there is "an institutional ethos and tradition which places greater value on developing a set of intellectual arts, than professional or vocational skills." [5] Embedded within this notion of the "intellectual arts" is an emphasis on learning and its relation to intellectual openness and the ability to adopt a critical perspective on one's own and others' beliefs, values, and positions. Towards this end, the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) is an important assessment tool that measures an individual’s awareness of, and sensitivity to, cultural differences. The IDI is a theoretically derived instrument based on Bennett’s Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS), which traces an individual’s movement from ethnocentric to ethnorelative stages of development. [1, 2] In general, ethnocentric stages refer to an individual’s avoidance of cultural difference by denying its existence, raising defenses against it, or minimizing its importance. In contrast, the ethnorelative stages reflect ways of seeking cultural difference by accepting its importance, adapting one’s perspective to incorporate it, or integrating the entire concept into one’s identity. In this review, the key characteristics, background, and development of the IDI are presented, along with a discussion of the IDI’s relevance and importance to the goals of a liberal arts education.

Key Characteristics of the IDI

The IDI is currently administered as a paper-and-pencil instrument composed of 50 questions that are designed to measure an individual’s sensitivity to and awareness of cultural differences. The survey consists of statements reflecting attitudes toward cultural difference. Responses are scored on a five-point Likert-type scale. [a] The instrument takes approximately 20 to 30 minutes to complete. Results are compiled and a graphic profile of an individual or group’s predominant stage of intercultural development is generated. In addition, IDI results provide a descriptive text of an individual or group’s stage of development and associated transition issues. Administration of the IDI is often accompanied by a pre-interview, in which respondents are asked about their backgrounds and prior experiences with different cultures. In addition, individuals and groups are provided with their IDI results in conjunction with a mandatory debriefing session facilitated by a trained and certified IDI administrator.

The IDI is a proprietary instrument that may only be administered by individuals who receive certification from the Intercultural Communication Institute (ICI). [b] The certification process entails participation in a three-day seminar that provides a detailed overview of the theoretical underpinnings of the IDI as well as how to administer and interpret the survey to individuals and groups. The cost of the training is $975 for educational institutions and includes all training materials and certification. IDI surveys may be ordered directly from the ICI at a cost of $5.00 each if they are processed by ICI, with additional fees incurred depending on the type and number of profiles requested. Certified administrators who prefer to process the IDI results at their respective institutions may do so by purchasing a CD-ROM ($200.00), which permits the generation and printing of various profile formats. IDI assessment instruments, including CD-ROM licensing, are available from the ICI for $10.00 each. [Editor’s note: all costs are as of spring 2004.]


Developed and revised by Drs. Milton Bennett and Mitchell Hammer, the IDI is theoretically-based on Bennett’s Development Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS). [1, 2] Bennett developed the DMIS as a way of organizing and explaining an individual’s reactions to cultural difference. One of the central tenets of the model is that, as an individual’s experience with cultural difference becomes more sophisticated and complex, there is a simultaneous increase in his or her competence in intercultural relations. Each stage of development is associated with distinct cognitive phases that correspond to certain types of attitudes and behaviors related to one’s orientation toward cultural difference. In this regard, the IDI is not a model of attitude change or skills acquisition, but rather a model of the development of a "worldview" structure. 

The DMIS incorporates six stages of development that are divided into ethnocentric and ethnorelative categorizations. The ethnocentric stages include Denial, Defense, and Minimization. In Denial, one’s own culture is viewed as essential, and consideration of other cultures is generally avoided through psychological and/or physical isolation from difference. The Defense stage is characterized by a perception of cultural difference as a threat, where one’s own culture is deemed best and all others are viewed as inferior. The final ethnocentric stage, Minimization, reflects a tendency to view one’s own culture as universal or absolute. Although cultural differences are viewed as acceptable on the surface, deep down an individual in this stage views other cultures as essentially similar to one’s own.

The ethnorelative stages include Acceptance, Adaptation, and Integration. In the Acceptance stage, other cultures are viewed as equally complex to one’s own culture. In Adaptation, one is able to incorporate different cultural perspectives into his or her worldview, which may result in intentional shifts in behaviors or attitudes to accommodate cultural differences. The final stage, Integration, reflects a shift in one’s experience of self, in which an individual is able to move in or out of different cultural worldviews. 

Development of the IDI

Individual items on the IDI were derived from interviews with 40 subjects who represented cross-cultural and situational diversity. [c] Interviews were then categorized by a team of four raters and reviewed by a team of experts who removed those items that were not similarly classified by at least five of the seven experts. This resulted in an inventory of 145 items that corresponded to five of the six DMIS stages. [d] Items were then tested on a sample of 226 respondents, which resulted in the final set of 50 questions. [e] The IDI is considered a valid and reliable measure "that reasonably approximates the developmental model of intercultural sensitivity." [8] The IDI is also related to other standardized tests, such as the Worldmindedness Scale and the Intercultural Anxiety Scale. [3]

Administering and Scoring the IDI

The IDI can be administered to individuals and groups depending on the particular goals of the institution, although individual profiles require considerably more time and effort to score. Group profiles present the most obvious use for an institution wishing to understand an entering cohort’s baseline level of intercultural sensitivity. A follow-up assessment at the time of graduation can also provide a more general understanding of how students progress on the IDI during their time in college. Using the IDI over time in conjunction with other instruments designed to assess students’ experiences in college (e.g., the NSSE) may yield an important understanding of how intercultural development is related to specific college experiences. The IDI may also be beneficial in assessing certain curricular or co-curricular experiences that provide students with cross-cultural opportunities that are accompanied by critical reflection and discussion.

Based on an individual’s or a group’s responses, the IDI generates a profile that corresponds to the different ethnocentric and ethnorelative stages of intercultural development. In each stage, respondents are designated as being either unresolved, in transition, or resolved. The stage in which the respondent receives the highest percentage of unresolved responses is designated as their current IDI profile. If individuals or groups are given their results, a certified administrator will provide them with detailed information about their stage of development and help translate IDI profiles into positive action planning. Respondents are encouraged to consider how they can continue to develop their intercultural sensitivity by having them pose the question, "What does this mean to me?" In addition to generating an IDI profile, results from the IDI produce a respondent’s perceived versus actual developmental score. Thus, administrators will also gain a sense of where discrepancies lie between how one rates his or her perceived strengths in intercultural sensitivity and the more objective assessment provided by the IDI. Resistance to the IDI is common for individuals or groups characterized by more ethnocentric stages of development. Therefore, the administrator might need to work through this resistance in order to help the individual or group consider how the results can guide further intercultural development.

Institutional Uses of the IDI

Institutions that value the development of intercultural sensitivity, as evidenced by their institutional mission and goals, will likely have a range of programs and structures in place to foster such growth. Perhaps the most common arena for implementing the IDI is study abroad programs. In addition, studies intended to foster global competence (such as diversity series, service-learning and field placement opportunities, or other programs that push students beyond their comfort zones) present potential opportunities for students to acquire intercultural competencies. Curricular offerings that incorporate opportunities for cross-cultural interaction and/or a global perspective within their course structures may also be appropriate places to assess students’ intercultural development. In addition, institutions interested in assessing the development of intercultural sensitivity among their students might find it advantageous to administer the IDI at college entry and then again at the time of graduation. There is little evidence, however, that mere exposure to cultural difference without substantial opportunities for critical reflection and discussion leads to greater intercultural sensitivity. [6] Thus, programs that make explicit their goals for developing intercultural sensitivity, and that incorporate time for genuine reflection and discussion are most appropriate for assessment using the IDI.

Relation to Liberal Arts Outcomes

Bennett’s model of intercultural sensitivity describes a critical shift from rigid to more flexible thinking. [1, 2] In this regard, intercultural development involves a gradual recognition and appreciation of multiple perspectives and cultural frameworks. This change in cognitive development is clearly aligned with the intellectual goals of a liberal arts education, including openness to new ideas and perspectives and the ability and desire to think critically about the beliefs, behaviors, values, and positions one might hold. The DMIS, in particular, parallels other accepted developmental paradigms such as Perry’s Scheme of Intellectual and Ethical Development (1970), Basseche’s Model of Dialectical Reasoning (1980, 1984), King and Kitchener’s Reflective Judgment Theory (1994), and Brown’s Model of Wisdom Development (2002). [as cited in 6] All of these theories suggest that experience, in conjunction with cognitive development, leads to more sophisticated approaches to interpreting experience.

For institutions interested in assessing the development of intercultural maturity in their students, the IDI is certainly a potentially valuable tool. Moreover, recent research has also demonstrated a positive association between ethnorelativism, moral reasoning, and multicultural experiences. [7] Therefore, student gains in intercultural awareness and sensitivity have implications for the moral development of these students as well. In fact, because of the interrelationships between many liberal arts outcomes, intercultural maturation might speak to student growth and development in many, if not most, qualities associated with liberal arts education.

Benefits of the IDI

Intercultural sensitivity is viewed by many as an essential skill for transcending ethnocentrism and establishing positive relations and effective interaction across national and cultural boundaries. Understanding students’ cognitive orientation toward cultural difference enables educators to make predictions about students’ attitudes and behaviors toward cultural difference. This information can be valuable in designing educational interventions to promote intercultural development. In a similar fashion, student affairs administrators interested in conducting a needs assessment to understand where a particular group is situated prior to entering into a culturally-based experience may find the IDI beneficial.

One feature of the IDI that is different from other measures of intercultural competence is its reliance on theory derived from the DMIS. The IDI also measures an individual’s thought processes as opposed to a particular set of attitudes; this makes the instrument less susceptible to outside influences, more stable, and more easily generalized than other commonly used tests.

Students who take the IDI are also provided with valuable feedback that can promote greater self-awareness about their intercultural sensitivity. As such, the IDI has the added benefit of being both an assessment instrument and a potential vehicle to promote greater self-awareness and intercultural skill development.

Furthermore, intercultural competence was rated as one of the most important skills the business community desires in future graduates, over and above specific knowledge acquired from one’s academic discipline. [4] More and more campuses incorporate diversity programs into their undergraduate curriculum, and the IDI is one of the most valid and reliable instruments currently available to the education community to assess the efficacy of such programs.

Limitations of the IDI

Despite the many benefits of the IDI, several criticisms have been levied against both the IDI and the DMIS. Dougherty et al., for instance, have concerns regarding the minimization stage of the DMIS. [6] In particular, they suggest that the DMIS does not distinguish between "minimizing" and "synthetic" universalism, the latter being essential for achieving the goals of a liberal arts education. While minimizing universalism is characterized as a collapse of the other into the self, synthetic universalism is more integrative and refers to one’s ability to recognize the significance, richness, and uniqueness of other cultures while simultaneously recognizing cross-cultural commonalities. Dougherty et al. posit that synthetic universalization is suggestive of a stage beyond ethnorelativism, yet the DMIS does not distinguish it from the minimization stage of ethnocentrism. This neglect, they add, "is a significant limitation of the IDI with respect to our understanding of the aims of a liberal education." [6]

Additional concerns about the IDI focus on the way the survey is constructed. Respondents are asked to identify a cultural group they have had the most contact or experience with and to contrast this against individuals who represent a cultural group they do not belong to. As such, one’s dominant cultural group varies significantly among individuals, with some opting to define their cultural group by race or ethnicity and others choosing affiliations such as religious background. Thus, the type of cultural competence the IDI taps into may vary significantly from one individual to another; the results should be considered within the context of the cultural group one feels he or she belongs to most. There is also some concern that students who speak non-standard English may have difficulty understanding the meaning behind some of the IDI questions. While the IDI is currently administered in several foreign countries, one should be cautious when using the IDI with students who speak non-standard English.

Perhaps the greatest limitations of the IDI are the time and resources needed to train and certify administrators. Institutions must be willing to invest a considerable amount of time and money to provide training opportunities for faculty and/or student affairs administrators interested in using the IDI as an assessment tool. In addition, to gain the full benefits of the IDI, administrators need to spend a considerable amount of time learning how to present the results to individuals and groups—a process that warrants a certain degree of interpersonal skills in helping people understand the meaning behind their IDI profiles as well as in encouraging the continual reflection and action steps needed to further develop their levels of intercultural sensitivity.


  1. Individuals rate their responses on a 5-point Likert-type scale that ranges from 1=Disagree to 5=Agree.
  2. The Intercultural Communication Institute, 8835 SW Canyon Lane, Suite 238, Portland, OR, 97225,
  3. Respondents came from 16 different countries and their length of stay varied from 1 year to over 7 years.
  4. The Integration stage of the DMIS is not measured by the IDI.
  5. The majority of respondents were between 22 and 30, held a college degree or higher, and lived in the United States.


  1. Bennett, M.J. (1986). Towards ethnorelativism: A developmental model of intercultural sensitivity. In R.M. Paige (Ed.) Cross-cultural orientation: New conceptualizations and applications (pp. 27-70). New York: University Press of America.
  2. Bennett, M.J. (1993). Towards ethnorelativism: A developmental model of intercultural sensitivity. In R. M. Paige (Ed.), Education for the intercultural experience (pp. 21-71). Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.
  3. Bennett, M.J., Hammer, M.R., & Wiseman, R. (2003). Measuring intercultural sensitivity: The intercultural development inventory. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 27 (4), 421-443. [See citations to Sampson & Smith, 1957; Wiseman, Hammer, & Nishida, 1989; and Gao & Gudykunst, 1990.]
  4. Bikson, T.K., & Law, S.A. (1994). Global preparedness and human resources. Santa Monica, CA: Rand Institute.
  5. Blaich, C. F., Bost, A., Chan, E., Lynch, R. (2004) Executive summary: Defining liberal arts education. Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts at Wabash College.
  6. Dougherty, D., Lynch, R.A., & Ohles, F. (2003). Review of the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) for assessing outcomes of a liberal arts education. Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts: Wabash, IN. [ADD URL & link to it, del this note]
  7. Endicott, L., Bock, T., & Narvaez, D. (2002, April). Learning processes at the intersection of ethical and intercultural education. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans.
  8. Paige, R., Jacobs-Cassuto, M., Yershova, Y.A., & DeJaeghere, J. (2003). Assessing intercultural sensitivity: An empirical analysis of Hammer and Bennett’s Intercultural Development Inventory. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 27: 467-486.