William W. Dressler is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at The University of Alabama, where he taught for 42 years. Born and raised in rural Iowa, he received his undergraduate degree in anthropology from Grinnell College in1973 and his Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Connecticut in 1978. He has carried out ethnographic fieldwork in the West Indies, Mexico, England, the U.S., and Brazil. He served as President of the Society for Medical Anthropology from 2000-2002. In 2021 he received the Conrad M. Arensberg Award from the American Anthropological Association for contributions to anthropology as a natural science.

Research Interests

William W. Dressler is a biocultural medical anthropologist. The fundamental question that has guided his research is how culture, in the sense of peoples’ socially shared understanding of the world around them, is transformed into individual behavior, and how that in turn influences their health. The relationship between culture and the individual is one that has vexed social science since its inception. In the last 25 years, however, the convergence of theory and method in anthropology and cognitive science has provided a foundation both for resolving difficult conceptual issues and for collecting data that link culture to the individual and health. Dressler’s development of the concept of “cultural consonance” has helped to clarify this area of research. Cultural consonance is the degree to which individuals, in their own behaviors, approximate the prototypes for behavior encoded in cultural models. Low cultural consonance is a stressful circumstance and is associated with worse health status, as measured by blood pressure, immunocompetence, body mass, and depression. It has also been found to mediate the influence of gene-environment interactions on depression. The concept of cultural consonance and its associated measurement model have shed new light on some basic theoretical questions in anthropology regarding culture.

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Primary Section

Section 51: Anthropology

Secondary Section

Section 52: Psychological and Cognitive Sciences