HEALTH AND CULTURE
Chicano/Latino studies associate professor Belinda Campos studies how the Latinx approach
to relationships yields mental and physical benefits
Can a person’s culture help or hinder personal health? Research by Belinda Campos, Chicano/Latino studies associate professor, says yes. She finds that in Spanish-speaking cultures, social relationships provide quite a few health benefits.
“We know, based on lots of research, that close relationships are associated with better psychological and physical health – from improving daily well-being to reducing mental illness relapses and easing the burden of chronic disease,” she says.
For 15 years, Campos has examined factors promoting high-quality relationships, and she’s learned that cultural norms play a very important role. She has published studies on the topic in Emotion, the Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, the Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, the Journal of Social & Personal Relationships, and Cultural Diversity & Ethnic Minority Psychology. Her findings make clear distinctions among how European Americans and Latinx Americans view and conduct relationships.
“In the first group, they’re thought of in terms of independence – the idea that the self is separate from others and you rely on yourself in order to do well,” Campos says. “In Latinx culture, there’s more emphasis on interdependence, being connected to others in a more fundamental way. You draw support from relationships, especially the family, and think of yourself as more ‘in it’ with someone else than forging your own path.”
She’s currently working on a three-part study funded by the National Science Foundation to understand why certain health problems - like neuroticism, which can lead to anxiety, depression, and stress-related disease - are less prevalent in Latinx populations. Participants in the study sign up with a friend and keep a 30-day diary about their life experiences, including their relationships, and how they deal with stress. After a month of self-reporting, they come to UCI for behavioral testing in Campos’ Culture, Relationships & Health Lab. One of the friends then undergoes a standardized stress test to measure cortisol levels, which indicate how the body responds to stress.
“What really excites me about this work is that we’re going to see not only the effects of culture at an observational level, but also whether the cultural contexts in which we live – that shape our social interactions – have consequences for our bodies,” she says.
“If we determine that there is a protective element combating neuroticism’s adverse outcomes in Latinx culture, we can try to incorporate this in other cultural groups. If we can reduce the costs of neuroticism, we’ll have an even larger community of people who are happier and healthier. And it would be pretty wonderful to be able to contribute to something like that.” •