Saturday, February 23, 2008

Does social inequality leads to health problems?

Stanford University neurobiologist and primatologist Robert Sapolsky says yes. In a number of interesting and very funny books, including A Primate's Memoir, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, and The Trouble with Testosterone, Sapolsky explores the hypothesis that social dominance hierarchies and stress reactions play a large role in primate health.

So what's this got to do with bioethics? Well, we're primates ... and we, like the baboons of Sapolsky's troop, live in social settings in which some of us fare better than others ... and guess what? We have massive health disparities that track along socioeconomic gradients, which themselves track closely with race in this country. Coincidence? Mmmmm ... maybe not, huh? Of course, there are also lots of implications for self-care, like making sure we have social connections, etc. etc.

You can hear Sapolsky's take on stress and heart disease in women in this archived podcast from NPR's Science Friday, or a more general explanation of the relation between stress and health on the Scientific American Frontiers program "Worried Sick," or a talk about the effects of stress on memory here. There's also an interview with The Atlantic here. Want the more technical version? Here's the abstract for "The influence of social hierarchy on primate health." There are lots more--the guy's published something like 170 academic articles. But for the full-on Sapolsky experience (yes, ok, full disclosure: geek girl has a tiny crush), you've got to see him in person.

1 comment:

SabrinaW said...

I highly recommend reading his books - they have formed a large foundation in looking at behavioral issues with more insight. I had the privilege of taking classes from him during my undergrad, and let's just say you're not the only one. :)