On Your Behalf

In a continuing effort to document the ways behavioral research can improve American's health, two APA members testified at a Sept. 18 hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives Science Subcommittee on Research and Science Education, called by Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.).

The hearing examined "the choices that individuals make, and what researchers know about how and why we make those choices and how public policy might be shaped to help influence those choices to the benefit of both ourselves and society," said Baird in his opening statement.

Two of the four speakers were psychologists. APA member Lisa Feldman Barrett, PhD, of Boston College, discussed her research on people's different levels of emotional expertise—a finding that has significant implications for public health. She has found that some people are "emotion connoisseurs" who are more centered and "less buffeted by slings and arrows of life." In contrast, people with less emotional expertise "live life as a turbulent roller coaster with more ups and downs."

These findings have important public health consequences, particularly for children, she said. "Children who can identify, understand, label and regulate their emotions effectively have fewer clinical symptoms, and are at lower risk for violent behavior and drug and alcohol abuse. They have better social skills and stronger leadership skills."

And perhaps most surprisingly, emotionally intelligent children have higher grades in math, science and reading. As a result, said Barrett, "emotional literacy must be included in educational reforms like No Child Left Behind."

Emotional expertise isn't just about happiness, she emphasized. "It translates into economic stability and productivity for our country. The emotionally intelligent children of today become the skilled and productive adults of tomorrow."

In his testimony, APA member John B. Jemmott III, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania, discussed his work to conduct HIV/STD risk-reduction research among urban populations. His studies have shown that behavioral interventions can reduce HIV/STD transmission, but he emphasized that these interventions must be "scaled up."

Jemmott said there are still significant gaps in developing interventions for certain populations. For example, African-American men who have sex with men have the highest HIV rates in the United States—rivaling rates seen in sub-Saharan Africa. However, the CDC still does not have research-tested interventions for this population.

"The federal government's investment in behavioral research on HIV has not been sufficient," Jemmott said. If these interventions were more widely disseminated, he said, "we would not be witnessing the high rates of HIV that we are still seeing in the United States."

This hearing was the third in a series called by Baird to explore the social science contributions to important policy issues. The other two hearings focused on contributions of the social sciences to national security and energy policy.

—S. Martin