Review of Cultural Consonance, Consciousness, and Depression: Genetic Moderating Effects on the Psychological Mediators of Culture (Dressler et al.)
by Vanessa Marshall
Perhaps the best way to start with this chapter is recognizing the problems with defining and studying culture. The authors outline five reasons: culture is based on a weak social nature of “facts”, culture is often confused with established social-psychological ideas, intracultural diversity is not taken into account (homogenization), culture is defined at population level and not with respect to individuals, and methods for measuring culture at the population level have not been/ cannot be applied to individual level.
The authors also provide a definition of culture via the Cognitive Theory of Culture as culture is defined as what an individual needs to know in order to function adequately in a particular society. From this definition, the idea of cultural consonance is developed where culture emphasizes the sharing of meaning and knowledge within social groups. Cultural consonance then is a twofold issue. First, it is when individuals incorporate populationally shared meanings into their lives that influence their beliefs and behaviors, and secondly, it is the degree to which these individuals recognize and use these population level cultural meanings. Though the idea of cultural consonance can be tricky to comprehend, the authors put it into perspective by connecting it to the other issues discussed in the chapter. Lower cultural consonance is associated with greater depression because living at the edge of social and cultural norms for a society is an inherently stressful experience.
With these ideas in mind, the chapter moves on to discussing how depression is a result of cultural beliefs and behaviors intersecting with the genetic information that structures the neural net’s functioning. Additionally, cultural consonance and depression are affected by the gene variant encoding serotonin receptors. A preliminary study showed the AA variant of the serotonin receptor gene had more drastic changes in serotonin and thus depression levels depending on how an individual’s cultural consonance changed over a two-year period. The question is how exactly genetics and cultural consonance interact. The direction the research is going is to combine a model of how genes moderate the effects of cultural consonance with a model of how psychological factors mediate the effects of cultural consonance. The important distinction here is that a moderator changes the relationship between variables, whereas a mediator stands between a predictor and an outcome. Mediation hypothesis research looks at the causal relationship between cultural consonance, dysfunctional beliefs, and depression.
The research presented is fascinating, but there are so many aspects, each with their own caveats that I am not sure I fully understand how the data collected could be analyzed in a way that could translate to treating depression. Additionally, consciousness is tied in during the discussion, but the differentiation between reflexive vs non-reflexive consciousness wasn’t entirely clear to me. I’m hoping that class discussion will highlight the connections that I am missing.