Incorporating psychosocial health into biocultural models: Preliminary findings from Turkana women of Kenya

Ivy L. Pike, Sharon R. Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


This paper investigates the potential benefits and limitations of including psychosocial stress data in a biocultural framework of human adaptability. Building on arguments within human biology on the importance of political economic perspectives for examining patterns of biological variation, this paper suggests that psychosocial perspectives may further refine our understanding of the mechanisms through which social distress yields differences in health and well-being. To assess a model that integrates psychosocial experiences, we conducted a preliminary study among nomadic pastoralist women from northern Kenya. We interviewed 45 women about current and past stressful experiences, and collected anthropometric data and salivary cortisol measures. Focus group and key informant interviews were conducted to refine our understanding of how the Turkana discuss and experience distress. The results suggest that the most sensitive indicators of Turkana women's psychosocial experiences were the culturally defined idioms of distress, which showed high concordance with measures of first-day salivary cortisol. Other differences in stress reactivity were associated with the frequent movement of encampments, major herd losses, and direct experiences of livestock raiding. Despite the preliminary nature of these data, we believe that the results offer important lessons and insights into the longer-term process of incorporating psychosocial models into human adaptability studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)729-740
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Journal of Human Biology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Anthropology
  • Genetics


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