Cultural and social factors in health
Social scientists and population health researchers frequently invoke culture as an explanation for behavior and health disparities (Hruschka 2009, Hruschka and Hadley 2008). A primary aim of my research is to refine and critically assess such claims, and to examine how economic, social and cultural factors interact in determining the health of populations. Working with collaborators in a number of countries, I have examined the role of social ties and economic factors in risk for obesity (Hruschka et al. 2011, Hruschka 2012, Hruschka and Brewis 2012), the influence of cultural models on care-seeking during birth complications in Bangladesh (Hruschka et al. 2008), and the mental health effects of armed conflict in Nepal (Kohrt, Hruschka et al. 2012). What unites these and other projects is an interest in how cultural and social context shapes our health and well-being.
Cultural and social factors in social behavior
My second focus of research examines how people in different cultural settings cultivate and invest in cooperative relationships (Hruschka and Henrich 2006; Hruschka and Henrich 2013a, 2013b). In my 2010 book, Friendship, I examine cross-population variability in human friendship and identify a number of hypotheses about how and why friendships differ across cultural contexts (Hruschka 2010). In a 2-year funded research project, “Virtues in Conflict: Cross-cultural Variation in Virtue Dilemmas and their Resolution,” our research team assessed one of these hypotheses, the material insecurity hypothesis, which predicts that people will preferentially invest in friends, family, and community in situations of greater material insecurity. The project brought together anthropologists, psychologists, economists, and philosophers to develop culturally appropriate methods for assessing how people make tough decisions between helping friends and following other social norms, and to explore how this differs across eight global fieldsites with differing degrees of social and economic uncertainty (Hruschka et al., 2014). A National Science Foundation CAREER award (2012-2017) jointly funded by Cultural Anthropology, Social Psychology, and Decision, Risk, and Management Sciences, is extending this research into the next five years by examining how religion and economic insecurity affect sharing, helping and neglect in four communities in rural Bangladesh.