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Bio-Cognition and Culture


SINGAPORE LIFESTYLE And CULTURES (Photo credit: Kenny Teo (zoompict))

By Mari D. González

Here is an audio interview with Dr. Mario Martinez, a licensed clinical neuropsychologist, in which he talks about how our cultural contexts or social environments affect our cognition and health.

Dr. Martinez is a neurologist and a clinical psychologist who studies cultural anthropology.  He draws his insights on health and longevity from these three fields.  Like many of us from high context societies—I’ll cover this topic in a later post—Dr. Martinez acknowledges his frustration with the narrowness in the field of psychology and mind-body medicine.  On his website he declares that “Academic science continues to divide mind and body, as well as ignore the influence cultural contexts have on the process of health, illness, and aging.”

According to his cross-cultural analysis in medicine, “a migraine in the U.S. is treated as a vascular problem. In England and Wales, they believe that a migraine is gastrointestinal, and in France, it is treated as being caused by the liver.” He concludes that medicine is also cultural. He explains that the attribution of certain symptoms is related to our social view of aging, which is ingrained by our context in our culture.

He proposes a radical view of medical research and pushes the boundaries.  He criticizes the inadequacy of utilizing animals on which to base medical research that will be applied to human beings who are rational and who also search for meaning. He points out, “While rat research could be productive, the results must be interpreted as responses from animals that do not have the capacity to find meaning in their actions and awareness of their mortality.” And he concludes by saying, “Cultural anthropology is the missing link of psychoneuroimmunology” (a branch of medicine concerned with how emotions affect the immune system).

I find his perspective not only fascinating but ground-breaking. He highlights the fact that external factors—including social and cultural—have a greater impact on our health than genetics, a belief that has more weight in the medical field outside the U.S.