Friday, 14 September 2007

The Usual Suspects

Two interesting posts at Science and Reason:

1) This one reports on research linking hostility, anger, and depression to inflammation. Remember that inflamation is implicated in all sorts of chronic diseases: heart disease, cancer, rheumatism, etc.

2) This one reports on the link between stress and weight gain.

While researching for the book we read endless studies of the sort discussed in these posts. There really is a very impressive body of research now which links psychological traits and experiences with health-related physiological changes.

However, what we come back to time and again is our sense of disappointment with what we consider to be the overly simplistic psychology of this kind of research. When you come to look at them closely, constructs like 'stress' and 'hostility' just can't be made to do the work required of them. Let's return 'stress' to its natural home - helping us think about whether bridges and the like are liable to collapse.

2 comments:

Charles Daney said...

Thanks for the links.

I don't understand what problem you have with concepts like "stress" and "hostility". Have you explained that somewhere?

What do you think of the way Robert Sapolsky explains the stress-health connection?

What do you think of this research: http://sciencenow.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/2007/914/2 (of course, it's not really a new discovery)?

david said...

Stress is a potentially useful first approximation, but it tends to screen off more fundamental questions. In the second comment here I touch on this, and point to passages of our book which deal in greater detail.

Sapolsky, I think, doesn't properly take into account the immune system, and its involvement in the vast majority of chronic illnesses.

The loneliness research is interesting, but as pointed out "the work leaves unanswered which comes first, the loneliness or the change in gene expression." I mentioned loneliness and Alzheimer's here.

But again the psychology underpinning the UCLA loneliness scale troubles me, as does that underpinning the hostility construct. I see these as surface appearances of more interesting tensions within us.