Biosocial Interactions

Biosocial Interactions

Human outcomes are determined by a complex interplay of biological and social  processes. Biosocial Interactions—the newest of OPR’s primary research areas—focuses on three principal topics: allostatic load, epigenetics, and telomere length.

It has long been known that exposure to stress increases allostatic load through the release of cortisol and other steroids into the bloodstream. When exposure to stress becomes chronic (for example, because of violence and instability within families, neighborhoods, or schools), an excessive allostatic load may be produced with far-reaching negative effects on health, behavior, and cognition (Goldman; McLanahan, Notterman).

New scientific work also indicates that genes are not simply inherited and automatically expressed, but are turned on and off  through interactions with the environment. For both animals and human beings, the critical environment is social, and exposure to advantage or disadvantage because of one's structural position in society can strongly affect gene expression (Conley; Altmann). Indeed, research indicates that methylation triggered by environmental interactions may permanently modify genetic material in ways that can be inherited.

Finally, research on telomeres illustrates how exposure to stressful environments can affect health and wellbeing at the chromosomal level. Telomeres are nucleotide sequences found at the ends of each chromatid. They protect the ends from deterioration and possible mingling with other strands of DNA or RNA. With repeated cell divisions in the course of normal aging, telomeres are progressively shortened, thereby increasing the likelihood of abnormal outcomes and adverse medical conditions. Exposure to chronic stress is another factor that can hasten the shortening of telomeres.


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Conley, D., & Schanzenbach, D. W. (2020). Invest in school-based health centers to improve child health. Milbank Quarterly Opinion, December 23 doi:

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Andrasfay T, Goldman N. Reductions in 2020 US Life Expectancy Due to COVID-19 and the Disproportionate Impact on the Black and Latino PopulationsProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2021;118 (5). Publisher's Version

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Dalton Conley - Connected Learning Research Network

Dalton Conley - Genetic analysis of the Dutch Hunger Winter Families Study to Boost Rigor and Robustness for Testing In-Utero Famine Effects on Aging-Related Health Conditions and
Biological Aging

Dalton Conley - GxE and Health Inequality Over the Life Course

Dalton Conley - Understanding the Interplay of Genes and Environment in U.S. Families to Improve Child Health: Evidence from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics

Noreen Goldman - New Jersey Alliance for Clinical Translational Science: NJ ACTS

Noreen Goldman - Social Disparities in Physical Functioning by Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration Status

Sara McLanahan - Beyond Abuse and Neglect: Universal Approaches to Promoting Healthy Development in the First Years of Life

Sara McLanahan - Effects of Poverty on Affective Development: A Multi-Level, Longitudinal Study

Sara McLanahan - Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing in Adolescence

Sara McLanahan - Future of Children: "Reducing Justice System Inequality"

Sara McLanahan - Future of Children: "University-Agency Partnerships to Strengthen Preschool: Improving Preschool at Scale"

Sara McLanahan - Future of Children: Culture and Social Mobility

Sara McLanahan - Future of Children: Prenatal to Age Three

Sara McLanahan - Future of Children: Social-Emotional Learning

Sara McLanahan - Future of Children: University - Agency Partnerships to Strengthen Preschool: Improving Preschool at Scale

Sara McLanahan - Future of Children: University-Agency Partnerships to Strengthen Preschool: Improving Preschool at Scale

Sara McLanahan - Improving Opportunities for Urban Youth: What Can We Learn from City Comparisons?

Sara McLanahan - Reducing Justice System Inequality

Sara McLanahan - The Future of Children Conference and Volume on Universal Approaches to Child Maltreatment Prevention

Daniel Notterman - Agreement #1078: Institutional Career Development Core

Daniel Notterman - Biological and Social Mediators of Child Wellbeing Among Ethnic Groups in Fragile Families

Daniel Notterman - Biopsychosocial Determinants of Sleep and Wellbeing for Teens in Fragile Families

Daniel Notterman - Epigenetic Mediation of Adverse Social Context on Stress Response, Socioemotional Development, and Health in a Population-based Study of Minority and Low SES Children and Adolescents

Daniel Notterman - Financial Distress, DNA Methylation, and Children's Behavioral Problems

Daniel Notterman - Measurement Error in Population Health Inequity Research using Novel Biomeasures

Daniel Notterman - New Jersey Alliance for Clinical Translational Science: NJ ACTS - ADMIN

Daniel Notterman - New Jersey Alliance for Clinical and Translational Science: NJ ACTS

Daniel Notterman - New Jersey Alliance for Clinical and Translational Science: NJ ACTS - TL1 Awards

Daniel Notterman - Reciprocal Genetic-Environmental Interactions During Childhood and Adolescence

Daniel Notterman - The Fragile Families Cardiovascular Health Follow Up Study