Mission and History

The Foundation for Psychocultural Research is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation based in Los Angeles that supports and advances interdisciplinary and integrative research and training on interactions of culture, neuroscience, psychiatry, and psychology, with an emphasis on cultural processes as central. Our primary objective is to help articulate and support the creation of transformative paradigms that address issues of fundamental clinical and social concern.

The FPR was founded in 1999 by Robert B. Lemelson, a documentary filmmaker and psychological anthropologist on the UCLA faculty. The FPR’s scientific advisory board includes internationally recognized leaders in the fields of anthropology, pscyhology, psychiatry, neurobiology, epidemiology, and public health on the faculty at UCLA and USC.

A key objective  of the foundation is to create, nurture, and sustain connections among anthropologists, research and clinical psychologists and psychiatrists, and neuroscientists who are interested in issues of fundamental social and clinical concern and train the next generation of scientists. This is implemented through research and research training programs as well as a series of workshops, conferences, and publications that allow participants to think across disciplinary boundaries.  Areas of topical focus since 1999 have ranged from the impact of psychologically traumatic experiences and other forms of human suffering, the wide diversity in the experience, expression, and regulation of emotion across cultures, the formative effects of early life experiences, and most recently global mental health and illness, particularly the significance of culture and context in psychosis and autism.

The FPR is a key supporter of the Culture, Brain, and Development (CBD) programs at UCLA and Hampshire College and a new program focusing on Culture, Brain, Development, and Mental Health (CBDMH) at UCLA.

The FPR and other interdisciplinary efforts in cultural psychiatry and psychological anthropology were responding in part to the combined effects of excessive reductionism in neuroscience and the profound influence of the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 1981) on categorizing mental disorders across the globe. From a cultural standpoint, both developments were criticized for failing to consider the historical, social/political, and cultural contexts of human suffering (e.g., Kleinman, 1988; M. Good, Brodwin, B. Good, & Kleinman, 1992; Kleinman, Das, & Lock, 1997; Kirmayer, 2000; and Csordas, 2002).

From the time of its founding in 1999, the FPR was unique for its commitment to the idea that culture is “inscribed” in the brain through developmental processes. This idea challenges the traditional “one-size-fits-all” model of mid-20th century psychology, which assumed “a basic universality of human constitution and experience” (Choudhury & Kirmayer, 2009).

Potential areas of focus described at the FPR’s first advisory committee meeting in October 2000 included finding a way to conceptualize biological and cultural interactions for conditions like OCD or PTSD that would result in better methods of prevention, intervention, and treatment. In practical terms, participants in the FPR’s first interdisciplinary workshop at Ojai in June 2001 advocated mixed method approaches that could recognize and help integrate multiple levels of analysis – from biological processes like postpartum olfactory learning, to psychological concepts like attachment, to social, cultural, economic, and political conditions affecting mother-infant interactions – as well as the variation in human environments, behaviors, and experiences (FPR, 2001).

These ideas were put into practice at the FPR’s first interdisciplinary conference on PTSD, which was co-sponsored by UCLA, in December 2002. At that time, some of the best empirical evidence for biological effects of psychological trauma came from animal models of fear conditioning. Several biologists and experimental psychologists, including Michael DavisGregory Quirk, and Michael Meaney participated in the conference, along withpsychologist Edna Foa, whose treatment of PTSD symptoms is based on the concept of exposure (the clinical analogue of fear extinction in animal models). The conference also included historian Mark Micale and anthropologists Allan YoungAlexander Hinton, and Nancy Scheper-Hughes, and a panel of trauma survivors from the Congo, Afghanistan, and Laos, whose presentations shed light on the historical, societal, and moral dimensions of trauma, which take their own toll on individual biology and psychology.

The FPR-UCLA Center for Culture, Brain, and Development (CBD), founded in 2002, fosters training and research at UCLA for pre-doctoral students who wish to explore how culture and social relations inform brain development, how the brain organizes cultural and social development, and how development gives rise to a cultural brain. At the same time, participants aim to understand how the brain makes it natural to acquire, use, and create culture; how development builds on neurally mediated socio-cultural practices; how social relations are culturally informed; how culture is acquired in social interaction; and, how culture and social relations are constructed through neurally potentiated developmental processes.

The FPR has provided essential funding to aid CBD trainees and participating faculty from a range of disciplines – anthropology, psychology, neuroscience, linguistics, psychiatry, and education – in the pursuit of these research goals and to allow CBD to host public lectures and mini-conferences presenting some of the foremost scholars in the areas of psychology, culture, neuroscience, and psychiatry.

In addition to providing support for the CBD center and programs, over the years the FPR has hosted several workshops and three major conferences on childhood, emotion, and the cultural and biological contexts of psychiatric disorder and published two edited volumes, Understanding Trauma: Integrating Biological, Clinical, and Cultural Perspectives (Cambridge University Press, 2007); and Formative Experiences: The Interaction of Caregiving, Culture, and Developmental Psychobiology (CUP, 2010). A third volume, Revisioning Psychiatry: Cultural Phenomenology, Critical Neuroscience, and Global Mental Health, is forthcoming.

In keeping with the goal of bringing together culture and neuroscience to address a common set of concerns, in 2010 Dr.  Robert Lemelson and the FPR expanded the funding of the FPR-UCLA Center for Culture, Brain, and Development (CBD) to include a new program in Culture, Brain, Development, and Mental Health (CBDMH).

The primary objective of CBDMH, which is co-directed by psychological anthropologist Doug Hollan of UCLA and cultural psychologist Steve López of USC, is to establish a strong research and research training program in cultural psychiatry, with an emphasis on integrating neuroscience and social science perspectives. The initiative is organized around ongoing, sustainable field sites in India, Mexico, and Los Angeles.

Over the next decade the FPR is in a unique position to make central contributions to our understanding of the interactions between culture, biology, development, and mental health and illness, as well as to the ongoing debate regarding the conceptual integration of rapidly emerging neuroscientific knowledge (from relatively simplified lab scenarios) in our efforts to identify, treat, and prevent psychiatric disorders in social and cultural context.

References

American Psychiatric Association (1981). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Csordas, T. J. (2002). Body/mind/healing. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Good, M., Brodwin, B., Good, B., & Kleinman, A. (1992). Pain as human experience: An anthropological perspective. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Kirmayer, L. J. (2000). Broken narratives: Clinical encounters and the poetics of illness experience. In C. Mattingly & L. C. Garro (Eds.), Narrative and the cultural construction of illness and healing (pp. 153–180). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Kleinman, A. (1988). Rethinking psychiatry: From cultural category to personal experience. New York: Free Press.

Kleinman, A., Das, V., & Lock, M. M. (1997). Social suffering. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

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