UW to launch center for mind-body interaction
Sept. 27, 1999
UW-Madison scientists will study how the emotions affect health at a new center funded by the National Institutes of Health.
The university will receive $10.9 million to create a Center for the Study of Mind-Body Interaction. The center's goal is to gain a clearer understanding of how emotions are encoded in the brain and then influence other body systems that affect health, according to Richard J. Davidson, Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry, who will serve as center director.
Mind-Body research highlights
Resilience in the face of later-life challenges
The center builds upon several existing UW initiatives, particularly the HealthEmotions Research Institute, one of the first and only academic institutions established to rigorously uncover the relationship between emotions and health.
The center also draws on ongoing interdisciplinary research programs at the Institute on Aging that are connecting psychosocial factors such as well-being and social relations to a host of neural, endocrine and immunologic measures.
And the new center intersects with the Wisconsin Center for Affective Science and a critical mass of researchers who have been investigating social, behavioral and biomedical linkages for years.
"The unique environment here, which fosters unusually close collaboration across academic departments and research institutes, has helped make Wisconsin one of the foremost resources for the study of emotion," says Chancellor David Ward. "The new center will allow these scientists to delve further than ever into the biological bases of human emotion."
The Mind-Body Center will focus on five projects. "We begin with the understanding that emotion is the primary means through which external psychological and social factors influence body systems and thus affect health," Davidson says. "We will examine this premise from five different perspectives."
- One project will look at older women who have gone through a major life change to see what health-related correlations exist in those who handle the change well and those who do not.
- A second study will examine the way women with positive outlooks react to two chronic, painful illnesses. The effect of a specific kind of meditation will be measured in half the group.
- In a third project, brain scans will be taken of some women participating in the first two projects to see what difference resiliency and meditation may have on brain activity and structure.
- A fourth study examines free-ranging Caribbean monkeys that go through a highly stressful, naturally occurring event. They will be monitored to identify biological factors that make some of them more resilient than others to the stress.
- The fifth project explores the way psychological factors stemming from social inequalities such as low economic status, race and ethnicity can be linked to physical health.
The center also extends several ongoing campus collaborations that have been nurtured by MacArthur Research Networks, which includes Davidson along with investigators Nadine Marks, Carol Ryff and Burton Singer.
"What made our proposal unique relative to others around the country was, in fact, the scope of the mind-body research we already had under way here at Madison," says Carol Ryff, director of the Institute on Aging.
Several other UW interdisciplinary institutes and centers will also receive funds from the new grant, including the Waisman Center, the Harlow Primate Laboratory and the Wisconsin Primate Research Center. Researchers with related interests from the departments of psychology, psychiatry, sociology, medicine and child and family studies are also involved.
"Ultimately, the major goal of our efforts is to better understand the psychological and biological factors that constitute resilience so that these qualities can be fostered more systematically to enrich both mental and physical health," says Davidson.