Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DIMS)

Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity or DIMS is also called the Bennett scale, was developed by Dr. Milton Bennett and Dr. Janet Bennett. Working with people involves communicating with them individually or in teams or groups. Cultural sensitivity and cultural differences represent a potential obstacle or benefit in developing relationships and communicating effectively with other people. The DMIS provides a structure for understanding how people experience difference.

There are five stages of development describe how a person sees, thinks about, and interprets events happening around them from an intercultural perspective that highlights how a person’s cultural patterns both guide and limit their experience of cultural difference:

Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity ©Dr. Milton J. Bennett, 1986 & 1993.

Ethnocentric Stages

One’s own culture is seen as the only culture or to varying extents the “better” culture.


Being comfortable with the familiar. Not anxious to complicate life with “cultural
differences”. Not noticing much cultural difference around you. Maintaining separation from others who are different.

  1. Isolation: I live isolated in my homogeneous group, and I am uninterested in experiencing difference.
  2. Separation: I intentionally separate myself from cultural difference to protect my own worldview.

A strong commitment to one’s own thoughts and feelings about culture and cultural
difference. Some distrust of cultural behavior or ideas that differ from one’s own. Aware of other cultures around you, but with a relatively incomplete understanding of them and probably fairly strong negative feelings or stereotypes about some of them.

The world is organized into “us and them.” My own culture is obviously the best, which is why

  1. Denigration: I denigrate other cultures.
  2. Superiority: My culture is superior to other cultures
  3. Reversal: It is the opposite of Defense. The person feels that some other culture is better and tends to exhibit distrust of their own culture. My adopted culture is superior to my own original cultural. I went native.



People from other cultures are pretty much like you, under the surface.

Awareness that other cultures exist all around you, with some knowledge about differences in customs and celebrations. Not putting down other cultures. Treating other people as you would like to be treated.

  1. Physical Universalism: We humans have all the same physical characteristics: we must eat, procreate, and die. These common biological features dictate behavior that is basically recognizable across cultures.
  2. Transcendent Universalism: Whether we know it or not, deep down all humans share basically the same universal values. I assume that elements of my own cultural worldview are experienced as universal.

Danger: cultural differences are often trivialized or romanticized.

Ethnorelative stages

Ethnorelativism supposes that “cultures can only be understood relative to one another, and that particular behavior can only be understood within a cultural context”


Aware of your own culture(s). See your own culture as just one of many ways of
experiencing the world. Understanding that people from other cultures are as complex as yourself. Their ideas, feelings, and behavior may seem unusual, but you realize that their experience is just as rich as your own. Being curious about other cultures. Seeking opportunities to learn more about them.

I recognize and accept the fact that my own culture is just one of a number of equally complex worldviews. Therefore, I accept:

  1. Respect for Behavioral Difference: all behavior
  2. Respect for Value Difference: that all values and beliefs exist in a cultural context.

I am curious and respectful toward cultural difference.


Recognizing the value of having more than one cultural perspective available to
you. Able to “take the perspective” of another culture to understand or evaluate situations in either your own or another culture. Able to intentionally change your culturally based behavior to act in culturally appropriate ways outside your own culture.

  1. Empathy: I have developed enough intercultural communication skills to be able to adapt to difference and consciously shift, through empathy, into another perspective, into another cultural frame of reference. I can also act in culturally appropriate ways in the other culture.
  2. Pluralism: I understand that difference must always be understood within the context of the relevant culture. I have internalized more than one worldview.

To varying extents, have integrated more than one cultural perspective, mindset,
and behavior into one’s identity and worldview. Able to move easily among cultures.

  1. Contextual Evaluation: I am able to manipulate multiple cultural frames of reference in my evaluation of a situation. I am conscious of myself as a chooser of alternatives.
  2. Constructive Marginality: My identity is not primarily based on any one culture. I am a constant creator of my own reality.

DMIS is central to productivity, innovation, and creativity!

Bennett, Milton J. “Towards Ethnorelativism: A Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity.”
Education for the Intercultural Experience. Ed. R.M. Paige. 2nd edition. Yarmouth, ME:
Intercultural Press, 1993. 21-71.