Menu Close

Large collaboration explores social determinants of health in humans and other social mammals


May 22, 2020

Humans are highly social animals; we require connections with others. Social adversity is closely linked in health and mortality outcomes, and much research over the past decade has revealed that the social environment we live in, both in the earliest parts of life and later on in adulthood, is one of the strongest predictor of morbidity and mortality in humans.

Humans are not the only social mammals, however, and similar research looking at other social mammals indicates that they, too, are influenced by their social environments and social adversity.

Faculty fellows Kathleen Mullan Harris, Ph.D., Allison Aiello, Claire Yang, postdoctoral scholar Grace Noppert, and Lauren Gaydosh, an Assistant Professor of Medicine, Health, and Society at Vanderbilt University who was formerly a Ruth L. Kirschstein Postdoctoral Fellow at CPC, are all members of a multi-year interdisciplinary working group on the social determinants of health in humans and other animals.

In a review published in Science on May 22, the group reviewed the relationships between the social environment and many aspects of health and well-being across nonhuman mammals and investigated the similarities between these and patterns in humans. They found many of the same threats and responses across social mammals.

This large collaboration started as a Triangle/North Carolina effort; almost all of the authors initially connected with the group through research or training experiences at Duke University, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill or Wake Forest University.

The researchers highlight the importance of these findings to both social scientists and biologists alike.

“For this review,” Jenny Tung, Ph.D. (Duke) said, “we wanted to figure out shared language and points of intersection that future collaborations between life scientists and social scientists could tackle.”

We thank Alissa Kocer and the Duke Center for Genomic and Computational Biology for allowing us to republish material from her piece “Not So Distant Socially” which provides more detail on the working collaborative and future work looking into comparative/animal model work for understanding the social dimensions of aging.