A cautionary tale: Examining the interplay of culturally specific risk and resilience factors in indigenous communities

Melissa L. Walls, Les Whitbeck, Brian Armenta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

8 Scopus citations


Efforts to build empirical evidence for the protective effects of Indigenous cultural factors on psychological health have yielded mixed findings. We examine the interplay of previously hypothesized culturally relevant risk (discrimination, historical loss) and protective (spiritual activities) factors among Indigenous people. The sample includes 569 Indigenous adolescents (mean age = 17.23, SD = 0.88; 51.0% girls) and 563 Indigenous adult caregivers (mean age = 44.66, SD = 9.18; 77.4% women). Our central finding was that indigenous spirituality was associated with poorer psychological outcomes across several domains (depressive symptoms, anger, anxiety, somatization, and interpersonal difficulties), but observed effects were attenuated once perceived discrimination and historical losses were added to statistical models. Thus, consideration of relevant stressors drastically changed our conclusions, underscoring the uncertain dynamics through which specific Indigenous cultural factors impact mental health. Researchers should work in collaboration with Indigenous communities to improve measurement and empirical investigation of these complex constructs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)732-743
Number of pages12
JournalClinical Psychological Science
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2016



  • American indians
  • Culture and mental health
  • Psychological stress
  • Risk factors
  • Sociocultural factors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology

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