Aug. 3, 2004

Contact: Roger Martin, KU Center for Research, (785) 864-7239.

KU study shows Mexican-American children have more anxiety

LAWRENCE -- Mexican and Mexican-American children report more symptoms of anxiety than children of European-American descent, according to a University of Kansas researcher.

The children, however, do not label it as mental distress. Mexican and Mexican-American children instead focus on such physical symptoms as an upset stomach, said Eric Vernberg, KU professor of psychology, in a study reported in the June 2004 issue of the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology.

Tulane University's R. Enrique Varela led the study while he was a KU doctoral student. In the journal article, the researchers said that differences in the way Mexican, Mexican-American and European-American children talk about their anxiety may stem from parental and cultural pressures.

According to the study's authors, children in Mexican culture may pick up on a bias against psychological explanations and not speak directly about their problems.

This bias may reflect cultural values such as "simpatia" -- or remaining agreeable with others even if it means sacrificing oneself -- Vernberg said.

The irony is that a child who feels pressure not to speak about his or her feelings may experience greater anxiety "by reducing opportunities for individually focused problem-solving and discussion of negative emotions," according to the researchers.

For the study, 53 Mexican, 50 Mexican-American and 51 European-American children were interviewed and filled out questionnaires.

All children lived in two-parent homes, with both parents participating in the study. In addition to using written questionnaires, the researchers taped interviews and then analyzed each sentence of the tapes.

Also contributing to the study were Juan Jose Sanchez-Sosa and Angelica Riveros of the National University of Mexico.


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