social life and the changing expressions of genes

social isolation

The Social Life of Genes by David Dobbs at Pacific Stan­dard

The recent explo­sion of inter­est in “epigenetics” — a term lit­er­ally mean­ing “around the gene,” and refer­ring to any­thing that changes a gene’s effect with­out chang­ing the actual DNA sequence — has tended to focus on the long game of gene-​environment inter­ac­tions: how famine among expec­tant moth­ers in the Nether­lands dur­ing World War II, for instance, affected gene expres­sion and behav­ior in their chil­dren; or how mother rats, by lick­ing and groom­ing their pups more or less assid­u­ously, can alter the wrap­pings around their offspring’s DNA in ways that influ­ence how anx­ious the pups will be for the rest of their lives. The idea that expe­ri­ence can echo in our genes across gen­er­a­tions is cer­tainly a pow­er­ful one. But to focus only on these nar­row, long-​reaching effects is to miss much of the action where epi­ge­netic influ­ence and gene activ­ity is con­cerned. This fresh work by Robin­son, Fer­nald, Clay­ton, and oth­ers — encom­pass­ing stud­ies of mul­ti­ple organ­isms, from bees and birds to mon­keys and humans — sug­gests some­thing more excit­ing: that our social lives can change our gene expres­sion with a rapid­ity, breadth, and depth pre­vi­ously overlooked.

Why would we have evolved this way? The most prob­a­ble answer is that an organ­ism that responds quickly to fast-​changing social envi­ron­ments will more likely sur­vive them. That organ­ism won’t have to wait around, as it were, for bet­ter genes to evolve on the species level. Immu­nol­o­gists dis­cov­ered some­thing sim­i­lar 25 years ago: Adapt­ing to new pathogens the old-​fashioned way — wait­ing for nat­ural selec­tion to favor genes that cre­ate resis­tance to spe­cific pathogens — would hap­pen too slowly to counter the rapidly chang­ing pathogen envi­ron­ment. Instead, the immune sys­tem uses net­works of genes that can respond quickly and flex­i­bly to new threats.

We appear to respond in the same way to our social envi­ron­ment. Faced with an unpre­dictable, com­plex, ever-​changing pop­u­la­tion to whom we must respond suc­cess­fully, our genes behave accord­ingly — as if a fast, fluid response is a mat­ter of life or death.

minority youth and the effects of intolerance

la high school

Liv­ing With Intol­er­ance: What kind of psy­cho­log­i­cal impact does dis­crim­i­na­tion have on minor­ity youth? by Romeo Vitelli, PhD in Psy­chol­ogy Today

Though psy­chol­o­gists have long stud­ied the impact of dis­crim­i­na­tion on minor­ity ado­les­cents, there are still unan­swered ques­tions about what causes the dis­crim­i­na­tion to hap­pen and the how ado­les­cents can deal with it.

Iron­i­cally, racial and eth­nic ten­sion in schools and neigh­bour­hoods often rises with increased eth­nic diver­sity. As more minor­ity groups come in and the pro­por­tion of estab­lished minor­ity group pop­u­la­tions change, cul­tural clashes cre­ate a neg­a­tive racial or eth­nic cli­mate. This trig­gers greater ten­sion as well as inci­dents of ver­bal or phys­i­cal abuse. Since teach­ing staff are often unable to keep up with these changes, minor­ity group mem­bers often see them­selves as being “on their own” and not being able to rely on author­ity fig­ures to help.

As a result, ado­les­cents who expe­ri­ence racial/​ethnic dis­crim­i­na­tion fre­quently expe­ri­ence more psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­tress and poorer per­for­mance in school. Mea­sur­ing the impact of dis­crim­i­na­tion is often dif­fi­cult since it can be hard to detect at times. Even the source of the dis­crim­i­na­tion, whether from author­ity fig­ures, teach­ers, or peers can make a dif­fer­ence in how it affects young peo­ple. Teacher dis­crim­i­na­tion, for instance, is more likely to affect how well ado­les­cents do in school. Abuse or bul­ly­ing com­ing from a fel­low stu­dent, on the other hand, is more likely to affect self-​esteem and social development.

free article on psychiatry, drugs, and the influence of drug industry


Drug Firms, the Cod­i­fi­ca­tion of Diag­nos­tic Cat­e­gories, and Bias in Clin­i­cal Guide­lines by Lisa Cos­grove and Emily Wheeler in the Jour­nal of Law, Med­i­cine and Ethics, Vol. 14, No. 3, 2013 at the Social Sci­ence Research Network

This is a very read­able doc­u­ment. It has six­teen pages of text, and the rest of the pages are filled with references.

…the prob­lem is not quid pro quo cor­rup­tion involv­ing the indi­vid­ual “bad apple”; the prob­lem is the “bad barrel.”

The pro­fes­sion of med­i­cine is pred­i­cated upon an eth­i­cal man­date: first do no harm. How­ever, crit­ics charge that the med­ical profession’s cul­ture and its pub­lic health mis­sion are being under­mined by the pharma-​ceutical industry’s wide-​ranging influ­ence. In this arti­cle, we ana­lyze how drug firms influ­ence psy­chi­atric tax­on­omy and treat­ment guide­lines such that these resources may serve com­mer­cial rather than pub­lic health inter­ests. Mov­ing beyond a conflict-​of-​interest model, we use the con­cep­tual and nor­ma­tive frame­work of insti­tu­tional cor­rup­tion to exam­ine how orga­nized psychiatry’s depen­dence on drug firms has dis­torted sci­ence. We sug­gest that academic-​industry rela­tion­ships have led to the cor­rup­tion of the evi­dence base upon which accu­rate diag­no­sis and sound treat­ment depend. We describe the cur­rent depen­dency
cor­rup­tion and argue that trans­parency alone is not a solu­tion — and some­times even pro­duces
iatro­genic effects. Fur­ther­more, we argue that the cor­rup­tion of the evi­dence base for diag­nos­tic and prac­tice guide­lines ren­ders obso­lete the tra­di­tional informed con­sent process, and we offer sug­ges­tions for reform­ing this process.

from this great read­ing list by Doc­tor Mickey Nardo

study: women who ended unwanted pregnancy compared to women who were denied an abortion


What Hap­pens to Women Who Are Denied Abor­tions? by Joshua Lang at The New York Times

When Diana Greene Fos­ter, a demog­ra­pher and an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of
at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, San Fran­cisco, first began study­ing women who were turned away from abor­tion clin­ics, she was struck by how lit­tle data there were. A few clin­ics kept records, but no one had com­piled them nation­ally. And there was no research on how these women fared over time. What, Fos­ter won­dered, were the con­se­quences of hav­ing to carry an unwanted preg­nancy to term? Did it take a higher psy­cho­log­i­cal or eco­nomic toll than hav­ing an abor­tion? Or was the reverse true — did the new baby make up for any social or finan­cial difficulties?

It’s not that the study was so hard to do,” Fos­ter says. But no one had done it before. Since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, the debate over abor­tion has focused pri­mar­ily on the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of hav­ing one…

… Most stud­ies on the effects of abor­tion com­pare women who have abor­tions with those who choose to carry their preg­nan­cies to term. It is like com­par­ing peo­ple who are divorced with peo­ple who stay mar­ried, instead of peo­ple who get the divorce they want with the peo­ple who don’t. Fos­ter saw this as a fun­da­men­tal flaw.

What is the Tur­n­away Study? by Diana Greene Fos­ter at ANSIRH (advanc­ing new stan­dards in repro­duc­tive health) at the Uni­ver­sity of California

abor­tion laws by state at the Guttmacher Insti­tute

APA Releases New Report: Abor­tion No Threat to Women’s Men­tal Health by Rachel Walden at the National Women’s Health Network

history. mental health. lead. poisoning.


the eter­nal hour of lead by deb­o­rah blum from speakeasy sci­ence blog from plos blogs

Accord­ing to Tamiji Nakashima, an anatomist at the Uni­ver­sity of Occu­pa­tional and Envi­ron­men­tal Health in Kitakyushu, the inves­ti­ga­tors stud­ied the remains of samu­rai men, their wives and chil­dren, about 70 in total. Ear­lier tests had found unusu­ally high lev­els in the women com­pared to men; the last study looked at the chil­dren. The researchers tested for lead in rib bones, x-​rayed the chil­drens’ arm and leg bones look­ing for signs of lead poisoning.

The Japan­ese sci­en­tists had already con­cluded that the lead lev­els in women were directly related to the white face paint pop­u­lar in aris­to­cratic cir­cles, which turned out to be loaded with lead. They won­dered if expo­sure to the same mate­r­ial might have harmed the chil­dren and the new results showed them pre­cisely right; they found evi­dence of lead lev­els more than 120 times back­ground level as well as bands of lead deposits in the bones.

Nakashima and his col­leagues believe that the chil­dren were poi­soned by touch, as they were fed, hugged, car­ried by their moth­ers, the lead-​rich paint rubbed off on them. They also spec­u­late that the grad­ual lead-​poisoning – with its inevitable taint of death and dis­abil­ity – helped put an end to the shogu­nate reign in the late 19th cen­tury, set­ting up the trans­fer of power to an emperor.

mental health. recovery movement. history.

from recov­ery in reach an intro­duc­tion to the his­tory of the recov­ery movement

In 1881, researchers at Mass­a­chu­setts’ Worces­ter Asy­lum for the Insane learned about recov­ery when they sur­veyed 1,157 peo­ple who had been dis­charged dat­ing back to 1840. Of the patients who were dis­charged as “recov­ered,” 58 per­cent remained well for the remain­der of their lives. The idea of recov­ery in the United States is also closely con­nected to the recov­ery move­ment in the sub­stance abuse field, par­tic­u­larly with Alco­holics Anony­mous, which began in the 1930s as a fel­low­ship of peo­ple focused on sobriety.

The nor­mal process of recov­ery was often stilted in the United States through­out the 1940s and 1950s as state hos­pi­tals sought more to con­fine patients than to help them recover. Even through­out the years of dein­sti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion that began in the 1970s, peo­ple with men­tal health dis­or­ders were fre­quently told that they would likely get worse and even lose their jobs and their friends. Despite these false­hoods, peo­ple with men­tal health dis­or­ders have con­tin­ued to believe in them­selves and in one another and to help one another recover.