Cultural background may influence how people view health

By: Sheri Hall,  College of Human Ecology
Tue, 06/12/2018

How do you rate your personal health, and how do you think it will change in the future? Research tells us that depending on your cultural background, you may view your health differently.

This was the conclusion that recent Human Development graduate Sam Hee Jin Jeon, HD ’18 made in a research paper published in September in the “Journal of Health Psychology.”

In the paper, Jeon set out to compare how people from different cultures envision their own and others’ future health. He found that Americans rate their own future health more positively than others’, whereas Koreans rate their own and others’ future health similarly.

Jeon’s research was funded by a Human Ecology Summer Research Stipend for Undergraduates. The program provides students with $4,000 to work full-time on a summer research project with a Human Ecology faculty member. Jeon worked with Human Development faculty members Anthony Burrow and Qi Wang.

Burrow studies the concept of purpose in life and how race affects one’s sense of self. Wang researches how people develop social- cognitive skills in the context of culture.

“In this one study, Sam brought together pieces of what he has learned through coursework, past laboratory research and personal experience,” Burrow said. “The result is new knowledge about the diversity of ways people perceive their own health now and downstream, which may offer a glimpse into what they are likely to do to more fully invest in it.”

Jeon, who was born in Korea, became interested in ideas of culture and identity in his youth.

“My past experiences of living in predominantly white neighborhoods in Canada and the United States had the greatest impact on growing my interest in race and culture,” he said. “Even though teachers and adults kept emphasizing the similarities among races and cultures, I could sense both the transparent and subtle differences that existed among people of diverse backgrounds at schools.”

When applying to colleges, he was attracted to the Department of Human Development because it combined his interests in psychology and medicine in a practical way. “Like the major name suggests, I would be able to learn about how we, as human beings, develop from birth to death in various academic perspectives – not just psychology and biology, but also sociology, anthropology, and other fields; it was essentially majoring in life.”

A course in Cultural Psychology sparked his interest in academic concepts of race and culture. “It was fascinating to see how the patterns of behavior I had detected matched up with specific psychological theories,” he said.

Jeon said working on a research project full-time gave him a good idea of what he wants to do in the future.

“Through this process, I had the opportunity to get a glimpse of what it is like to be a scholar in an academic field,” he said. “Having gone through all the stages of how scholars publish a paper in a journal, I was able to gain a deeper understanding of what it meant to be a professional.

“The fundamental research knowledge I honed will be pivotal for everything I do in the future,” he said. “I hope to continue studying the human body and mind to help promote individuals’ mental and physical health and wellbeing through the life-course.”

cultural background Burrow and Wang cover