Does stress make you sick? What we know about stress and the immune system

How does stress impact your health? That question has been studied intensely by psychoneuroimmunology researchers for over 30 years. Continue reading


What can we learn from the placebo effect?

An article in The Economist this week – “Think yourself better” – examined the effectiveness of alternative medical treatments such as acupuncture, crystal healing, Reiki channelling, and herbal remedies.  Alternative medicine a booming business.  Survey results released by the US National Institutes of Health found that in 2002 62.1% of adults in the country had used some form of alternative treatment in the past 12 months and 75% across lifespan.  Alternative treatments are typically not proven effective using scientific methods, and according to Dr. Edzard Ernst, one of the few to run clinical trials on these treatments, around 95% of these treatments are statistically indistinguishable from placebo treatments.

If these treatments are no more effective than a placebo and the high usage rates are increasing, are we looking at a serious public health problem?  Maybe.  There are certainly cases of alternative treatments that harm the patient, either directly, or more commonly- by replacing more conventional treatments that have been proven effective.  However, we should pay attention to what’s going on with this placebo effect.  There are many examples of this strange phenomena- one example is that telling someone that you are giving him morphine provides more pain relief than saying you are giving him aspirin, even when both are just sugar pills.  What’s going on here?  If we can figure it out, it has great potential to positively impact the medical field.  We may be starting to… Continue reading

Cutting edge research: environmental influences on genetics

Throw out what you learned in 9th grade biology class. The age old idea that your genetic profile is static and there is nothing you can do to change the DNA hand you’ve been dealt, is likely not true. A new article in the American Psychological Association’s magazine the Monitor on Psychology nicely reviews the cutting edge research UCLA professor Dr. Steve Cole and his colleagues.  It’s a hot and controversial new area of research that is definitely worth learning about: how the environment influences gene functioning. Check it out at:

Dr. Rodney Hammond: A successful career of blending research and community work

One of the goals of the American Psychological Association is “to advance the communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society.” As the head of the Center for Disease Control’s Division of Violence Prevention, Dr. Rodney Hammond has worked to achieve this goal by bringing scientific rigor and leadership to curbing violence in our country. Continue reading

How Does Early Life Stress Affect Health Across the Lifespan? — Professor Shelley Taylor, UCLA

How does early life stress affect health across the lifespan? This question has intrigued our research team for many years. People who experience early life stress, in the form of poverty, exposure to violence, noise, and other stressors, or who experience a harsh early family environment in the form of conflict-ridden, cold non-nurturant parenting, or neglect, have an elevated risk for illnesses, not only in childhood but throughout the lifespan; their adverse early experiences lead them to develop chronic diseases in adulthood earlier than is true for people who do not experience early hardships. These findings are somewhat mysterious, as it is not immediately clear why stress in one’s early life, during the first decade, would affect risk for illness in one’s 40s or 50s. Using a combination of laboratory experiments, large scale health studies, functional magnetic resonance imaging, and genetics studies, we’ve uncovered several of the reasons why. Continue reading

Are you more of a conformist during flu season?

Looking back on social psychology’s greatest hits, my mind always drifts first to studies on conformity, largely because they make such good stories. Take Asch, for instance. Who would’ve thought that so many people would willingly follow the crowd in giving a blatantly wrong answer about line length? And then, of course, there’s Milgram. It is still shocking to imagine two-thirds of participants agreeing to shock another person up to the highest possible voltage. (Ok, so that’s technically obedience, not conformity, but you get the picture.)

Although studies of conformity fell out of fashion years ago, interest in the origins of conformist behavior are back in a big way, and the theorized reasons are definitely not what you might expect. Continue reading