A chasm is developing between genetic research and the exploration of behavioral and social influences on health, warns the National Institutes of Health's leading voice for behavioral and social science research.
One of the worst consequences of the divide between biology and behavioral sciences is a widespread assumption that health problems viewed as having a biological origin require biological interventions and those viewed as having a psychological origin require psychological interventions, according to Gregory A. Miller, PhD, of the University of Illinois, editor of the journal, Psychophysiology.
Norman B. Anderson, PhD, director of the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) at NIH, writing in the January issue of the journal with co-author Paul A. Scott, warns that this conceptual divide is widening as molecular biologists discover genetic roles in more illnesses -- cancer, Alzheimer's, lupus, sclerosis, HIV susceptibility, and others -- that appear to promise ever more important biological breakthroughs and wonder therapies.
"Discoveries in molecular biology," Anderson writes, "often lead, either implicitly or explicitly, to more reductionist explanations for health and behavior, with the accompanying unidirectional views of causation (i.e., 'upward' from genes to physiology and behavior). This type of thinking necessarily leads to a conceptual divide or a chasm between molecular biology and fields concerned with behavioral and social influences on health."
Compounding the problem, he says, is that scientists on either side of
the chasm speak different languages, so much so that sometimes the same words
mean different things to biomedical and behavioral researchers. He cites
"prevention," which to a behaviorist means changes in diet, exercise and smoking
to forestall poor health outcomes but to many biomedical scientists might mean
chemical agents used to accomplish the same
Contact: Norman B. Anderson, Ph.D.
Center for the Advancement of Health