Conceptual Shifts Needed to Understand the Dynamic Interactions of Genes, Environment, Epigenetics, Social Processes, and Behavioral Choices

Social and behavioral research in public health is often intimately tied to profound, but frequently neglected, biological influences from underlying genetic, environmental, and epigenetic events. The dynamic interplay between the life, social, and behavioral sciences often remains underappreciated and underutilized in addressing complex diseases and disorders and in developing effective remediation strategies.

Using a case-study format, we present examples as to how the inclusion of genetic, environmental, and epigenetic data can augment social and behavioral health research by expanding the parameters of such studies, adding specificity to phenotypic assessments, and providing additional internal control in comparative studies.

We highlight the important roles of gene–environment interactions and epigenetics as sources of phenotypic change and as a bridge between the life and social and behavioral sciences in the development of robust interdisciplinary analyses.