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Coping with chaos: Israeli study shows cultural impact on Jewish and Muslim women

Until now, most of the studies in question were conducted in the United States and compared groups of African Americans, Americans of European descent, and Latinos.

Now, a multidisciplinary research study has compared Jewish and Muslim women in Israel by examining their responses to environmental variables in the urban environment such as air pollution, noise, and heat stress.

The findings indicate the occurrence of different environmental effects on each population, as well as distinct coping mechanisms the groups have developed.

Some of the studies show that in urban areas, Latinos and African Americans are more exposed to health risks and feelings of stress.

The research, presented at the annual conference for science and the environment, is the result of a multidisciplinary collaboration of scientists from different universities in Israel: Prof. Yitzhak Schnell and PhD student Diana Saadi of the Department of Geography and Human Environment at Tel Aviv University; Prof. Emanuel Tirosh of the Rappaport Family Faculty of Medicine at the Technion and Bnai Zion Medical Center; and Dr. Agai-Shai from the Department of Epidemiology from the Azrieli Faculty of Medicine at Bar-Ilan University.

The survey was conducted in the cities of Nazareth and Afula, which are located 12 km away from each other in the northern periphery of Israel. Both cities are similar in topography and climate.

According to the study’s results, Jewish and Muslim women respond differently to their respective environments.

Jewish women who participated in the study suffered from stress in noisy and polluted urban environments, but relaxed in quieter areas.

Muslim women, however, experienced the opposite. The feeling of stress intensified when they were alone in a quiet residential neighborhood, and they relaxed in the bustling city center.

“It is hard to determine the central reason for this,” Schnell says, “but we hypothesize that Muslim women felt safer downtown while Jewish women suffered more from noise, air pollution, and heat stress in the busy urban centers. The difference in response seems to be cultural as well.”

Moreover, it was found that the general level of stress among Muslim women was lower than that in Jewish women, except in the home environment, where the stress level of Muslim women increased relative to that of Jewish women. The researchers link this rise in tension to “parental stress,” as the Muslim women who participated in the study had more children.

Schnell says: “The most interesting finding of the study, which is also the first of its kind, and therefore needs to be treated with caution, is the connection between the activity of the sympathetic and parasympathetic system in the autonomic nervous system found in the Muslim women who were tested.

“This demonstrates the effectiveness of a person’s ability to adapt to a specific environment.”

In Jewish women, however, no such relationship was found. In other words, it seemed as though within the Muslim women tested, there was a physiological mechanism to deal with the busy city environment, whereas for Jewish women, this mechanism was less developed.

Therefore, the autonomic nervous system was very active in Muslim women while dealing with environmental changes. However, it is important to note that the results are preliminary and should be explored in more depth.

The results also reinforce what is known so far about the mental impact of nature. “Urban parks and green environments have an extraordinary relaxing effect. We have seen that even a short visit to the neighborhood park greatly reduces the level of stress among the two ethnic groups,” Schnell concludes.

Courtesy of ZAVIT* – Science and Environment News Agency