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spit, sweat, and tears Gathering Biological Data in Naturalistic Settings emma k. adam, leah d. doane, and kathryn mendelsohn Reality is the leading cause of stress amongst those in touch with it. —Lily Tomlin One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important. —Bertrand Russell Few social scientists concern themselves with the viscosity of saliva on a daily basis. Our research team, however, has become expert on such matters . Even small samples of saliva offer social scientists insights into the minds and bodies of individuals that surveys alone cannot provide. With just a few drops, we can measure a variety of hormones and other biological markers that provide clues to the functioning of physiological systems, including those serving functions related to the allocation of energy and attention , growth, sexual behavior, immune functioning, and responses to stress. A new generation of social scientists (in part through pressure from funding agencies) is realizing the importance of becoming truly multi8 method: in addition to combining qualitative and quantitative methods, they are now also incorporating biological measurement—often referred to as “biomarkers”—into their research. Salivary biomarkers are just one of a wide range of biomarker measurement approaches, but the nonintrusive nature of salivary sampling makes it a particularly popular point of entry into this new genre of research. The apparent ease with which saliva can be collected has, however, also meant that many investigators adopt this approach without having a realistic sense of how complicated measuring and interpreting salivary biomarkers can be. This chapter describes some of the challenges and bene‹ts of incorporating salivary sampling into social science research. Although it focuses on salivary cortisol in particular, it contains cautionary tales and lessons that can easily be generalized to other approaches to biological measurement. Setting aside the not unimportant fact that many funding agencies are now encouraging social scientists to do so, why should social scientists want to incorporate biomarkers into their research? Perhaps because the constructs that social scientists already care about—social and policy contexts and the interpersonal interactions and experiences that take place within them—can have profound effects on biological processes. Alterations in biological processes, in turn, can have important in›uences on emotional and behavioral functioning as well as physical health (see ‹g. 1). Thus, physiological processes that used to be con‹ned to the realm of biology and medicine are now understood to be embedded in social contexts, interacting with them dynamically, bidirectionally, and continually. A number of theoretical and empirical traditions incorporate this insight, including biopsychosocial (Engel 1980), biosocial (Booth, Carver, and Granger 2000), bioecological (Bronfenbrenner and Ceci 1994), life history (Worthman and Kuzara 2005; Ellis 2004) and early/fetal programming approaches (Barker 2004; Barker et al. 2002). Despite distinct theoretical and disciplinary orientations, the basic message is the same and is being heard now louder than ever: Biological and social/environmental processes are tightly and planfully intertwined—biological processes are in fact designed to change in response to changing experiences, with the aim of promoting ›exibility, survival, and ›ourishing in the face of an ever-changing socialenvironmental landscape. As a result, examining the transactions between biology and social experience will enable us to better understand human behavior, development, and health. In an effort to observe the ways in which experience and biology interSpit , Sweat, and Tears • 9 act over moments, days, and years, our team now collects thousands of saliva samples per year from research participants, analyzing them in conjunction with questionnaires and diary reports of social experience gathered in naturalistic settings. This strategy allows us to identify how events and emotions occurring in the everyday lives of children, adolescents, and adults “get under the skin” to in›uence physiological processes. More speci‹cally, we have spent countless hours preparing, collecting, and processing tiny vials of spit (see ‹g. 2) in order to identify how everyday life factors in›uence the stress hormone cortisol, and how differences in cortisol levels between individuals, and changes in cortisol levels within individuals over time, can in turn impact emotional and physical well-being. Although we have collected saliva from many different age groups, much of our recent research (and thus this chapter) focuses on youth aged 13 through 25 years of age—a population that has presented us with some unique challenges. By describing the trials and tribulations of implementing biological measures in our own research, we hope to provide tips and advice that will allow future...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780472026531
Related ISBN
9780472050260
MARC Record
OCLC
646069080
Pages
312
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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