News & Events


September 15, 2015

“Culture Matters” Indigenous Wellness Research Institute Think Tank

Indigenous communities have long known that American Indian culture can have important protective effects on health. Facilitated by Drs. Mellissa Walls and Cynthia Pearson, IWRI hosted a think tank on the measurement of culture on May 26, 2015 as part of a meeting preceding the 2015 Society for Prevention Research Conference in Washington D.C. Nineteen Indigenous and Allied scholars with expertise in psychometrics came together to explore the following questions:

  • What is culture?
  • How does culture affect our health and wellbeing?
  • Why does culture matter?
  • How does culture matter (e.g., mechanisms of effect)?

How do we measure culture (e.g., dimensions and indicators)?
We concluded the meeting with a consensus that there is no single, monolithic construct of “culture” that can be measured. “Culture” is broad, porous, and dynamic. Culture is a way a person and community defines and make sense of the world around them. Moreover, multiple cultures can influence both individual and the community. Thus, defining culture is an ecological conundrum intertwined with historical, political and environmental factors. These complexities were noted in the recent “Cultural Framework for Health” report released by the NIH’s Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR). In terms of measurement, we may not be able to measure culture as a whole, but we can isolate specific aspects of culture (e.g., spirituality, identity, community connectedness) that might relate to our outcomes of interests and develop and improve measures for those aspects. In developing measures, it is important to recognize that the meaning of what we’re trying to measure depends on the historical, political, economic context. Determining what to measure should also consider ethical issues, as there may be consequences to asking about cultural practices, and can place a burden on those who respond to or administer questions on culture.

Next Steps: There was consensus on writing a group commentary paper that shares insights from the think tank that will be of benefit to both those that participated in the meeting, as well as others outside our group. This paper will build on recent efforts including the OBSSR’s report on culture. We see this meeting on understanding culture and its function on health and wellness as a first step. We will be scheduling a follow-up meeting next year where we can delve into more into specific measures and measurement development strategies.

Funded and sponsored by:

National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities & National Institute on Drug Abuse