Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry

, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 465–494 | Cite as

The impact of culture on the cognitive structure of illness

  • Ronald Angel
  • Peggy Thoits


This paper presents a theoretical framework for understanding the impact of culture on the processes of symptom recognition, labeling, and help-seeking and consequently on large-scale epidemiological studies involving different ethnic groups. We begin with the assumption that the subjective experience of illness is culture- bound and that the cognitive and linguistic categories of illness characteristic of any culture constrain the interpretative and behavioral options available to individuals in response to symptoms. We hypothesize the existence of learned cognitive structures, through which bodily experiences are filtered, that influence the interpretation of deviations from culturally-defined physical and mental health norms. Certain contradictory findings concerning the self-reported health of Mexican Americans are discussed in order to illustrate the impact of culture on perceived health status.


Mental Health Health Status Ethnic Group Epidemiological Study Subjective Experience 
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Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ronald Angel
    • 1
  • Peggy Thoits
    • 2
  1. 1.Rutgers UniversityRutgersUSA
  2. 2.Indiana UniversityUSA

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