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Research Center

Behavior and Health: Research that Makes the Link

Did you know that a person's feelings, life circumstances and how they live can affect their health? Medical researchers have found that these factors are very important. A person's choices about how they live, such as whether they smoke or not, can affect their health. Other things are important, too, such as having people to support you if you have a difficult health problem. Links between a person's "life style," living situation and health are so real they often play a key role in how sick, or how healthy, you are.

Social and behavioral research is done to discover important links between how we live, what we believe, and the impact these have on health. The more we learn about these links, the more we can predict what puts a person at risk for illness and develop ways to prevent or better treat it. This kind of research is very important to keep people healthy.

There are many kinds of social and behavioral research studies looking at things like relationships, health behaviors, and support systems, such as family, church, community, and friends. Many kinds of research scientists do this kind of research including sociologists, psychologists, social workers, anthropologists and public health researchers. Sometimes this kind of research is done outside of a traditional medical setting. Other times, social and behavioral researchers work together with biomedical researchers on clinical studies that also include things like blood tests and other medical procedures. Here are some of the ways that links between behavior and health are explored:

1. Questionnaires or Interviews
These could be standardized tests, food or exercise diaries, questions asked over the phone, on the Internet, or in person.

2. Opinion polls, focus groups, or group discussions
Researchers may ask you to express your thoughts or opinions about a topic, either individually or within a group setting.

3. Directly observing behavior
Researchers may observe you and make notes about your behavior, or they may audio/video record actual behavior.

4. Review of records already collected
Researchers use information that already exists in medical charts, educational records, employment records, or insurance claims with your permission. Or, if they review the information without permission, they can only do so if names and other identifying information have been removed so that your identity is completely protected.

5. Routine physical tests
Sometimes researchers use tests that may be related to your feelings, such as measuring heart beats and blood pressure, which can increase if a person has strong feelings about a subject.

Social and behavioral research studies are reviewed by ethics committees who make sure the rights and welfare of participants are protected. Like all research, there are both benefits and possible risks that go along with taking part in social and behavioral studies. It is important that you understand what risks are anticipated in the particular study you are considering, and that you weigh these risks and the benefits of taking part before enrolling in the research.

Please refer to Taking Part in Research: Benefits and Risks for more information on how to make a decision that is right for you.

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This article is a NetWellness exclusive.

Last Reviewed: May 15, 2011

Suzanne M Rivera, PhD, MSW Suzanne M Rivera, PhD, MSW
Assistant Professor of Bioethics
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University