What is the value of a friendship? Why does it hurt when we lose one? How does parental nurturance affect us throughout our lives? What happens when we meditate or pray? How do such relationships and practices affect our health? Such topics have long been the domain of poets, priests, and philosophers rather than scientists, but it is becoming increasingly possible to study such questions with scientific methods.
And these are the questions that drive my research, which examines how social bonds affect physical health and psychological well-being. More specifically, research in this laboratory aims to identify the specific chemical, neural, and psychological pathways by which social relationships impact indices of health and health outcomes.
Much of this research stems from social sensitivity theory (Way and Gurbaxani, 2008; Way and Taylor, 2010), which hypothesizes that the same physiological pathways that affect sensitivity to negative social experiences also affect sensitivity to positive social experiences. The mechanisms underlying social sensitivity are being examined across multiple paradigms, including laboratory experiences of social rejection, aggression, and social evaluative threat (e.g. public speaking stress) as well as the formation of friendships and romantic relationships. These processes are being examined using a combination of neuroimaging, pharmacological, and genetic methods. Improved understanding of the physiological substrates of social experiences will provide insight into the means by which social variables activate health relevant pathways such as the immune system and stress axis.
As this research emphasizes the importance of environmental variables for health, a related line of research examines the role of meditation and related spiritual practices upon improving well-being.
Baldwin Way received his Ph.D. in neuroscience at UCLA in the neuropharmacology laboratory of William P. Melega, Ph.D. He did subsequent post-doctoral research at UCLA working with Matthew Lieberman, Ph.D., Naomi Eisenberger, Ph.D. and Shelley E. Taylor, Ph.D.
Way, B.M. and Taylor, S.E. (in press). A Polymorphism in the Serotonin Transporter Gene Moderates Cardiovascular Reactivity to Psychosocial Stress. Psychosomatic Medicine.
Slavich, G.M., Way, B.M., Eisenberger, N.I., and Taylor, S.E. (2010). Neural sensitivity to social rejection is associated with inflammatory responses to social stress. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107:14817-22. PDF
Way, B.M. and Lieberman, M.D. (2010). Is there a genetic contribution to cultural differences? Collectivism, individualism, and genetic markers of social sensitivity. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 5:203-211. PDF
Way, B.M. and Taylor, S.E. (2010). Social influences on health: Is serotonin a critical mediator? Psychosomatic Medicine, 72:107-12. PDF
Way, B.M. and Taylor, S.E. (2010). The Serotonin Transporter Polymorphism (5-HTTLPR) is associated with cortisol response to psychosocial stress. Biological Psychiatry, 67:487-492.
Way, B.M., Creswell, J.D., Eisenberger, N.I., & Lieberman, M.D. (2010). Dispositional mindfulness and depressive symptomatology: Correlations with limbic and self-referential neural activity during rest. Emotion: 10:12-24. PDF
Way, B.M., Eisenberger, N.I., & Taylor, S.E. (2009). Variation in the µ-opioid receptor gene (OPRM1) is associated with dispositional and neural sensitivity to social rejection. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106:15079-15084. PDF
Way, B.M., & G¬urbaxani, B.M., (2008). A genetics primer for social health research. Social and Personality Psychology Compass (Health Section), 2:785-816. PDF
Melega W.P., Jorgensen, M.J., Laćan, G., Way, B.M., Pham, J., Morton, G., Cho, A.K., & Fairbanks, L.A. (2008). Long-term methamphetamine administration in the vervet monkey models aspects of human exposure: Brain neurotoxicity and behavioral profiles. Neuropsychopharmacology, 33: 1441-1452.
Way, B.M., Lacan, G., Fairbanks, L.A., & Melega, W.P. (2007). Architectonic distribution of the serotonin transporter within the orbitofrontal cortex of the vervet monkey. Neuroscience, 148:937-48 PDF.
Creswell, J.D., Way, B.M., Eisenberger, N.I., & Lieberman, M.D. (2007). Neural correlates of dispositional mindfulness during affect labeling. Psychosomoatic Medicine, 69:560-5.
Eisenberger, N.I., Way, B.M., Taylor, S.E., Welch, W.T., & Lieberman, M.D. (2007). Understanding genetic risk for aggression: Clues from the brain's response to social exclusion. Biological Psychiatry, 61:1100-8.
Taylor, S.E., Way, B.M., Hilmert, C.J., & Lehman, B.J. (2006). Early family environment, current adversity, the serotonin transporter promoter polmyorphism (5-HTTLPR) and depressive symptomatology. Biological Psychiatry, 60: 671-676.
Way, B.M., & Masters, R.D. (1996). Political attitudes: interactions of cognition and affect. Motivation and Emotion, 20(3): 205-236. PDF