Cohen is one of the world's leading health psychologists and one of the architects of Carnegie Mellon's highly regarded health psychology program. In 1997, he published a groundbreaking article in the Journal of the American Medical Association demonstrating that people with diverse social networks and greater sociability have better health practices and increased resistance to disease.
The NIH grant will help Cohen and his colleagues to build on this work by exploring two major questions. One, what is the impact of a person's social environment on their health and well-being? The researchers will take into account study participants' childhood experiences, including the safety of their home and neighborhood, their activities as children and their parents' social networks as well as the nature of their current social activities and relationships. Next, the researchers will try to determine which biological factors are influenced by social well-being to impact health. Cohen already has established, for example, that people with numerous and diverse relationships are less susceptible to infection than others.
"What we don't know is how our social environment gets 'under the skin' to influence our health," Cohen said.
Cohen's co-investigators on the grant are Margaretha L. Casselbrant, William J. Doyle and Eillie Mandel at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh; Anna Marsland and Bruce S. Rabin at the University of Pittsburgh; and Ronald B. Turner at the University of Virginia.