Science Committee Hears Testimony from Psychologists Barrett and Jemmott

Two psychological scientists testified before the House Science Subcommittee on Research and Science Education on September 18, 2008, at an unusual hearing that was focused on contributions of the behavioral and social sciences to public health.

Two psychological scientists testified before the House Science Subcommittee on Research and Science Education on September 18, 2008, at an unusual hearing that was focused on contributions of the behavioral and social sciences to public health. This was the third in a series of hearings called by Subcommittee Chair U.S. Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) to showcase the progress and promise of behavioral and social sciences research to key policy issues. (The first two hearings focused on contributions of the social sciences to national security and to energy policy.) Chairman Baird, a psychologist, said in his opening statement that he wanted to examine the role that social, behavioral and economic sciences play in improving health and well-being and reducing the economic burden of health care costs.

Psychologists Lisa Feldman Barrett, PhD, of Boston College and Massachusetts General Hospital, and John Jemmott, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania, presented statements about their own research and fielded questions from committee members. The testimony and other information from the hearing are available from the Science Committee website.

Dr. Barrett runs an interdisciplinary lab that focuses on the basic nature of emotion. Her research grew from the observation that some people seem able to differentiate and articulate their emotions while others cannot. Her research has demonstrated significant advantages in health and resiliency for those who are better able to recognize and differentiate their emotions. Her basic findings have been applied in the development of emotional literacy programs for children. She stressed that emotionally literate children are not only happier; research shows they have fewer clinical symptoms, display more leadership skills, and have higher test scores. Dr. Barrett's work has been funded primarily by the National Science Foundation and National Institute on Aging. She is a 2008 recipient of the NIH Director's Pioneer Award for innovative research.

Dr. Jemmott discussed his research on prevention of HIV transmission and Sexually Transmitted Diseases among youth in the U.S. and in Africa. His research has led to the development of several interventions for specific populations, including "Be Proud, Be Responsible," "Making a Difference: An Abstinence-based Approach," and "Sisters Saving Sisters," an intervention for Latina and African American girls. He emphasized that a number of interventions have been tested in smaller populations and need to be scaled up to randomized controlled trials. He said that the federal government should invest more heavily in research on dissemination to ensure that helpful interventions are tested and modified to reach broader segments of the public. Dr. Jemmott's research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Other scientists who testified at the hearing were Donald Kenkel, PhD, economist from Cornell University, and Harold Koenig, MD, of Duke University.

Ranking Minority Member on the Subcommittee, U.S. Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI), a physicist by training, said that series of hearings had opened his eyes to the power and utility of the social sciences and that he thought Chairman Baird had "done a service" to the Subcommittee. Subcommittee members who attended the hearing in addition to Baird and Ehlers included Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) and Dan Lipinski (D-IL).