by Amanda Oldani
Chapter 14, written by Dressler, Balieiro, and dos Santos examines the relationships between cultural consonance, genetic influences, and depression. Cultural consonance is understood as how well a person’s behaviors and beliefs align with the shared cultural models of a group for certain domains within life. The chapter begins with the stories of two comparable men who differ on their levels of cultural consonance and depressive symptoms; after two years, one man has had a change in cultural consonance associated with lower depressive symptoms. I thought this opening was a perfect demonstration that introduced us to this somewhat complex study.
The authors discuss the theoretical background and previous barriers to research into cultural factors in relation to depression, such as methodological issues. With the introduction of cultural consonance, based on a cognitive theory of culture (meaning culture is the shared knowledge across people), cultural models and peoples’ adherence to them can be more thoroughly examined. Lower cultural consonance means there is a gap between behavior and cultural expectations, which often has negative and stressful effects, such as depression. A previous study found that perceived stress partially mediated the effects of cultural consonance on depression, but only for the family life domain. From this point in the research, the authors wanted to look for another explanatory factor. At the same time, other research has looked into the interactions between genes and the environment, examining how genotype can moderate a stressful event’s effects on mood. However, this research does not create a concrete enough definition of “stress” that is desired. By combining these lines of research, the researchers were able to complement gaps in methodology and understanding.
The gene-environment research focuses on genetic polymorphisms in the serotonin system within the brain. In a preliminary study, the authors examined the “interaction of cultural consonance and the -1438 G/A polymorphism for 5HTR2A” and found that “The effect of cultural consonance in family life was enhanced in the presence of the AA variant of the polymorphism” (Dressler, Balieiro, & dos Santos, 2012, p. 378). This means that this specific variant can enhance the magnitude of the effects of changes in cultural consonance.
The goal of this study is to further study these findings, “especially in terms of the way in which the psychological processes that mediate the link of cultural consonance and depression are in turn modified in the presence of a specific genetic variant” (Dressler et al., 2012, p. 365). The proposed mediator between cultural consonance and depression involves a negative self-schema and dysfunctional beliefs, meaning that people see experiences as failures and see themselves as incapable of achieving life goals. Genotype and specific variants were examined to see if they moderate the mediators or the mediation process as a whole.
In Ribeirão Preto, Brazil, four neighborhoods that differed within the socioeconomic continuum were selected to be sampled. In order to understand the cultural consonance and what domains are particularly salient, multiple mixed-methods were used, including cultural domain analysis, participant-observation, and cultural consensus analysis. The important domains included lifestyle, social support, family life, and national identity; since people tend to be consistent across domains, one general variable for cultural consonance was utilized. People were surveyed twice, with two years in between, gathering psychological data and genetic information later.
Results indicate that dysfunctional beliefs mediate between cultural consonance and depression, as long as the genotype includes the GA or GG variants; if the genotype is AA, the hypothesis is inaccurate but still important. People with the AA variant showed that cultural consonance had a stronger effect on depression than others with the GA or GG variants. These results show that the mediating pathway is also important; GA or GG peoples’ depression depends on their levels of conscious processing of these dysfunctional beliefs. AA people do not seem to need to ruminate on these thoughts because their low cultural consonance has a direct impact.
I found this chapter to be very thorough; I appreciated the fact that it explained the process of understanding cultural consonance because at first I was a bit skeptical of the concept. I was also afraid this study would be too reductionist or simplified, but the authors note that this is an initial attempt at improving nuance. The authors had strength in understanding and acknowledging implications of this research, as well as the limitations. As the authors note, the study has a small sample size and imperfect measures. As negative self-schema, catastrophic thinking, and rumination are emphasized in psychology and the popular CBT, measures could surely be improved for future studies.
I also had a question about the foundation for this research. The authors define culture using a cognitive theory of culture, but what if other researchers do not adhere to this definition? Is this the best way of understanding culture? Previous chapters have provided different ideas, which make me wonder about how other understandings of culture could be used to study this topic.
Dressler, W., Balieiro, M., & dos Santos, J.E. (2012). Cultural Consonance, Consciousness, and Depression: Genetic Moderating Effects on the Psychological Mediators of Culture. In Lende, D. H & Downey, G. (Eds.), The Encultured Brain: An Introduction to Neuroanthropology (pp. 363-388). Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.