Research Across the Liberal Arts - Karl Maier: Seeking to Solve Global Issues and Study their Stressors
My research program through the Behavioral Medicine Laboratory spans both basic and applied areas of investigation within the fields of health psychology (a sub-discipline of psychology) and the broader, interdisciplinary field of behavioral medicine (that includes diverse fields such as medicine, nursing, psychology, and public health). My empirical research and scholarship encompasses a range of factors from individual physiology to environmental factors as determinants of human health. The core of my research is centered on stress, its cognitive and emotional components, and associated personality factors. Within this, I focus on two areas: One area examines how stress-related constructs are inter-related, and how they relate to physiology and various psychological and physical health outcomes (e.g., depression, quality of life, obesity, blood pressure, etc.). My second line of research examines perceived stress and mental health factors related to phenomena experienced broadly in the population, including pandemic disease (e.g., H1N1 2009) and climate change. Within this area, I study the emotional and health effects of such phenomena, and related attitudes and behaviors.
With my interdisciplinary background, I have engaged in scholarship relating to ecological concepts that cut across traditional areas of expertise. I develop and study interdisciplinary curriculum in the context of health and also sustainability issues such as climate change. I have also developed a conceptual framework that extends the widely known biopsychosocial model to an ecological framework for understanding health and disease in medicine. The original biopsychosoical model was first introduced to the field of medicine in 1977 by George Engel, advocating for the need to consider psychological/behavioral and social factors along with biological factors in the cause and treatment of disease. I have extended this to a broader ecological framework that views environmental and human factors as dynamic systems that interact over time to comprise a broader global ecological system. As an ecological system, biological, psychological, and social factors are mutually determined and fluid between these domains and across the levels within each. The smallest (micro) level includes genetics, molecular processes, and the human microbiome (the genome of all microorganisms living in and on us that research is finding may have wide-ranging health implications related to healthy functioning and disease). Health of the microbiome (especially the gut microbiota), neural systems, and their synergies therefore reflect the health of microbial ecologies of the host and more distal physical environments, as well as the macro-level environmental and social arenas in which these microbial ecologies and humans interact. A biopsychosocial ecological paradigm may encourage interdisciplinary collaborations to foster ecologically valid research and practices, as well as sustainable psychological, social, and bio-environmental systems that support microbiome and general health. This work has been presented recently at international conferences. A paper outlining the biopsycosocial ecological model focused on the human microbiome is now in press with Psychosomatic Medicine, the cutting-edge journal of biobehavioral medicine.