Publication Date


Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Master of Arts in Anthropology



Major Advisor

Kendall V. House, Ph.D.


Kathryn Warden, Ph.D.


Kristin Snopkowski, Ph.D.


Vicken Hillis, Ph.D.


In the United States, the use of complementary and alternative medicine (usually referred to as CAM) has increased dramatically over the last three decades. However, theoretically informed explanations about why people decide to use CAM therapies are lacking. The purpose of this study is to determine if there is enough statistical evidence to justify additional research on the relationship between social learning and the decision to use CAM. Working on the assumption that people make decisions based on information they have or can obtain, I applied the concept of learning bias in order to examine the ways in which people gain information about CAM. I used a subsample of n=9991 from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) and results from 12 semi-structured contextual inquiry interviews in a mixed-methods approach. Statistical evidence from Chi-square tests of independence indicated that a relationship between CAM and social learning bias does exist. However, results also indicated that the relationship is dependent on the type of therapy used. Additionally, the contextual inquiry interviews revealed that upbringing influences later-in-life predispositions towards learning biases favorable to CAM usage. I also found that individuals differentiate between recommendations from friends and co-workers as well as those from parents and other family members. These differences are not made clear in the standard models of learning bias. I discuss how the results of this study illuminate people’s decisions to use CAM, they relate to the way bias is modeled, and use of this knowledge to inform future studies.