Associate Professor Eileen Anderson directs the university’s educational programs in Bioethics and Medical Humanities. She is founding director of the Medicine, Society and Culture (MSC) concentration and center for Medicine, Society and Culture. As a medical and psychological anthropologist, she studies how adolescents and young adults adapt to changes in their environments in ways that both advance and harm their well-being. An award-winning teacher and mentor, she expanded the university’s offerings at the undergraduate, graduate and professional levels to provide students a more comprehensive understanding of non-biological factors that affect health, as well as our ideas about well-being and illness.
Drawn to interdisciplinary study since her own days as an undergraduate, Dr. Anderson foregrounds bioethics, medical humanities and social medicine in her research, teaching and program development. Social and cultural constructs, historical and rhetorical influences, literature, art, philosophy – all shape perceptions of health, illness, and recovery, which in turn affect choices, beliefs, and behaviors. Those who appreciate this complex and multi-layered interplay will be able to play pivotal roles in enhancing how care is delivered – and the outcomes it yields.
Dr. Anderson's perspective on these issues has been informed by extensive research on the mental health and well-being of adolescents and young adults in contexts of socio-cultural change. Her most enduring project is an ongoing longitudinal study of how subjective perceptions of current and future well-being allowed the first mass-educated cohort of Belizean schoolgirls to overcome severe threats to their mental and physical health. Dr. Anderson also led an interdisciplinary team’s study of the psychiatric medication experiences of undergraduates at North American university campuses, where a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods revealed stark differences between reported and actual usage. She is writing a book about the findings and their implications; Young, Educated and Medicated: College Student Mental Health. Building on her earlier work in culture, body image and eating disorders, she led a multi-institutional project examining the ethnography of global obesity stigma among upwardly mobile young people in several countries around the world. This research led to a School for Advanced Research seminar, from which emerged an edited volume (2017) of which she is primary editor and author, Fat Planet: Culture, Obesity and Symbolic Body Capital. Most recently, she has launched a new project examining concepts and practices related to child well-being in the Guardian Ad Litem system in legal contexts, where she leads an interdisciplinary team of child psychologists, pediatricians, ethicists, anthropologists, social workers and legal scholars.
Her training has included work at Harvard Medical School in the Department of Social Medicine and Massachusetts General Hospital, and postdoctoral fellowships in Interdisciplinary Studies of Culture and Neuroscience and Culture, Brain and Development through the Foundation for Psychocultural Research at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.