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University of Oregon

Culture and Health

The Culture and Health research group examines how perceptions of social and psychological stressors are reflected in stress biomarkers and health outcomes

The complex interactions among culture, individual behavior, and health can now be more precisely traced and measured. Advances in cultural models theory and methods allow anthropologists to better understand how culture, through social and psychological stressors, shapes health. Paralleling progress in cultural modeling have been major developments in the collection and measurement of human biological data, including multiple measures of psychosocial stress, which allow researchers to address these questions and to better assess, from a biological perspective, how non-biological factors ‘get under the skin’ to affect health. This approach breaks new ground by using an ethnographic approach to identify the diverse ways that individuals experience cultural dissonance, and by mapping the specific biological pathways through which this stress affects health.

This research group is interested in advancing theory in biocultural and cognitive anthropology by integrating cultural consonance models with stress biomarkers to better understand the physiological pathways through which social and psychological stressors shape cardiovascular and metabolic health outcomes.

This group has four main areas of specific research interest and expertise:

1) ethnographic study and analysis of communities undergoing social and economic change;

2) identifying and quantifying key areas and categories of cultural life during times of social and economic change that individuals and the community as a whole perceive as stressful;

3) developing measures of cultural consonance and intracultural variation in terms of socioeconomic status; and

4) linking cultural consonance data with a comprehensive suite of stress biomarkers, including measures of immune function (C-reactive protein and Epstein-Barr virus antibodies) and neurophysiological function (cortisol), and a measure of cardiovascular health (metabolic syndrome).

The goal of this research group is to rethink the ways that culture, biology, and behavior intersect at the level of the individual. This approach can fundamentally shift our understanding of stress and health, and has the potential to lead to improved cardiovascular health and well-being for communities.

This research group contributes to two important linked research areas where theory development is ongoing: cultural consonance analysis and social health gradient research. This research will result in a better understanding of the processes through which social, cultural, and psychological factors ‘get under the skin’ to shape human health. The research group takes an integrative approach to the study of psychosocial stress by measuring multiple dimensions of the stress response. Finally, by integrating theory and methods from cultural anthropology and human biology, this research group works to foster research, dialogue, and collaboration across the subfields of anthropology.

This research group works to focus needed attention on the stressors in low socioeconomic groups by emphasizing the perspective of the individual and determining how people really view their own lives.
Given the urgent need to address health disparities and the burden of health risk in low income communities, potential treatment programs must incorporate the cultural dimensions of life stressors in order to be both accepted and effective.

For more information on the Culture and Health Research Group, contact Frances White or Josh Snodgrass