Cultural differences in the experience of everyday symptoms: A comparative study of South Asian and European American women

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This paper describes a study of medically ambiguous symptoms in two contrasting cultural groups. The study combined a qualitative, meaning-centered approach with a structured coding system and comparative design. Thirty-six South Asian immigrants and thirty-seven European Americans participated in a semistructured health history interview designed to elicit conceptual models of medically unexplained illness. The groups reported similar symptoms, but the organization of illness episodes and explanatory models associated with these episodes differed sharply. A variety of cultural variables and processes is proposed to account for observed differences, including somatization, the role of local illness categories, and the divergent core conflicts and values associated with gender roles. It is argued that the comparative design of the study provided insights that could not have been achieved through the study of a single group.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)473-497
Number of pages25
JournalCulture, Medicine and Psychiatry
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1 2007



  • Conceptual models
  • Cultural differences
  • Explanatory models
  • Illness representation
  • Medically unexplained symptoms
  • Somatization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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