Page 3 Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior Study Guide for the MCAT

Foundational Concept 9: Cultural and social differences influence well-being.

It is important to understand the social, cultural, and demographic characteristics of society can have a huge influence of a person’s well-being. The concepts that follow focus on how these can affect our lives.

Theoretical Approaches

Theories are a statement of how and why processes work, an attempt to explain why societies function in certain ways. In sociology, there are three major theoretical approaches: the functionalist perspective, the conflict perspective, feminist theory, and the interactionist perspective.

microsociology vs. macrosociology, functionalism, conflict theory, symbolic, interactionism, social constructionism, exchange-rational choice, feminist theory

Social Institutions

Social institutions are established sets of norms or patterns that make up the values of society. These institutions include education, family, religion, government and economy, and health and medicine. Each institution serves a particular purpose in a society, contributing to its function and stability. They give our society structure and familiarity.

education, family, religion, government, economy, health, medicine


Culture is the attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and customs that are shared by a particular group or society. Our culture is learned behavior. No one is born with cultural patterns; we learn them as we grow up and observe the behaviors of our society. All cultures consist of two parts: material and symbolic culture. Material culture consists of the physical, concrete aspects associated with a culture, such as the food eaten or the clothes worn. Symbolic culture, on the other hand, consists of the culture’s values and beliefs.

elements, material versus symbolic culture, culture lag, culture shock, assimilation, multiculturalism, subcultures and countercultures, mass media and popular culture, evolution and human culture, transmission and confusion


A demographic is the statistical study of a human population, be it of age, gender, sexual orientation, etc. The human population depends on the fertility rate minus the mortality rate (natural increase) and takes into consideration migration. Demographics can target small groups or large populations and are very useful for sociology research.

age, gender, race and ethnicity, immigration status, sexual orientation

Demographic and Social Change

Sociologists determine social change in relation to transformations in culture, social institutions, relationships, and structure within a social system. There are different theories of social change. Some sociologists identify social change with deterioration; that man is becoming more and more unhappy. The cyclic theory of social change would state that society goes through different cycles; each aspect of society has a birth, growth, maturity, and decline. While according to linear theory, society develops in a linear fashion of improvement.

theories of demographic change, population growth and decline, fertility, migration and mortality, social movements, globalization, urbanization

Foundational Concept 10: Social stratification and access to resources influence well-being.

Social stratification and either a limited or unlimited access to resources affects society. This concept focuses on how social inequality affects how we interact with one another and its influence on health and the healthcare system.

Inequality of Space

Spatial inequality is the uneven spread of resources and services in an area, for example medical services or access to drinking water. When two or more social groups within an area are separated, it is referred to as residential segregation. Most often, groups are divided by racial or ethnic factors. Residential segregation tends to benefit majority groups and the wealthy, but harms minority and poor groups of society.

sensation (residential segregation, neighborhood safety and violence, environmental justice)

Social Class

Social class refers to a group of people who share a similar position in society and usually share similar levels of wealth and status. Sociologists define three main social classes: upper class, middle class, and lower class. In society, there are always scarce resources that are distributed throughout, defined as social stratification. It is based on aspects such as power, wealth, occupation, and social status.

aspects of social stratification, patterns of social mobility, poverty

Health Inequalities

There is substantial research to suggest that better health is associated with higher positions in social class (higher income, level of education, and better education). The Black Report in 1980 found some explanations for these health inequalities: social selection, the “statistical artefact,” materialist or structuralist explanations, and the cultural/behavioral explanation.

class, gender and race

Healthcare Inequalities

The provision of medical services to prevent and treat health problems (healthcare) is often unequal across different racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. There are several complex reasons for healthcare disparities relating to patient, clinician, and system level factors. These disparities can be influenced by unconscious clinician bias to disadvantaged patients, unequal healthcare, and healthcare that is ill-equipped to deal with the needs of the lower classes.

class, gender and race