We believe that science should be informed by societal issues and that society, in turn, greatly influences what science gets conducted. In fact, all research is embedded in a social and cultural belief system. Although these interactions between science and society are usually taken for granted, we think it makes sense to continually evaluate the influence that science has on society and vice versa. Doing so can sharpen the questions we ask and the research we pursue. Perhaps more importantly, it can help ensure we are having the greatest positive impact on society possible.
One of the most pressing social and economic problems that society faces today is poor health. In fact, a recent report published by the Institute of Medicine paints a very grim picture of the mental and physical health status of Americans. Compared to sixteen other economically comparable nations that were evaluated, the United States ranked last in life expectancy for males and second-to-last for females. The report also found that Americans suffer from the poorest health over the lifespan. We have the highest rates of infant mortality, the highest rates of obesity in adolescence, and the highest rates of cardiovascular disease in adulthood. What’s most distressing is the primary source of the problem: out of every ten deaths in the United States today, seven are caused by chronic disease conditions that can either be prevented or minimized. These include heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, cancer, HIV/AIDS, and depression. Identifying specific processes that promote chronic disease, which can in turn be modified to reduce disease burden and improve human health, should therefore be of paramount public concern.
Our mission is to address this concern by pursuing research that can lead to improvements in human health and well-being. For example, we are working to identify the types of stress that cause poor health, and the psychological and biological processes that underlie these links. We are also pioneering the development of new online platforms for assessing and managing stress, such as our flagship system, the STRAIN. By being aware of what challenges society is facing, we are able to pursue research that effectively addresses society’s greatest needs.