In Honor Of…Shelley Taylor
Honoring scientists who have made important and lasting contributions to the sciences of mind, brain, and behavior.
Shelley E. Taylor, PhD
University of California, Los Angeles
Socioemotional resources, including optimism, mastery, self-esteem, and social support, have biological and psychological benefits, especially in times of stress. Taylor’s research program of the last twenty-five years has explored these resources and documented their many benefits for mental and physical health. Under some circumstances, socioemotional resources can assume the form of “positive illusions,” namely overly positive self perceptions, an illusion of personal control, and unrealistic optimism about the future. Moreover, just as socioemotional resources more generally are protective of health, so these illusory beliefs have been found to be largely beneficial as well and associated with criteria indicative of mental and physical health: positive self-regard, the ability to care for and about other people, the capacity for creative and productive work, the ability to manage and grow from stressful life experiences, and reduced biological (cardiovascular, inflammatory, HPA axis) responses to threatening events.
Taylor’s current work explores the genetic, early environmental, and neurocognitive origins of these resources in conjunction with their beneficial consequences. Specifically, Taylor examines genes related to serotonergic, oxytocinergic, and opioid functioning; childhood socioeconomic status and early family environment as indicators of childhood environment; and neural mechanisms (ACC, amygdala, hypothalamus, prefrontal cortex) that link socioemotional resources to low psychological and biological stress responses (cardiovascular, HPA axis, and pro-inflammatory cytokines). As such, Taylor’s current work integrates perspectives from genetics, psychoneuroimmunology, health psychology, and social neuroscience.
In threatening times, people seek positive social relationships, because such contacts provide protection to maintain one’s own safety and that of one’s offspring. This tend-and-befriend account of social responses to stress is the theoretical basis for Taylor’s work on social support. Taylor’s research suggests that oxytocin and endogenous opioid peptides are implicated in affiliative responses to stress, especially in women. Taylor’s current research assesses whether oxytocin acts roughly as a social thermostat that is responsive to the adequacy of social resources, that prompts affiliative behavior if those resources fall below an adequate level, and that reduces biological and psychological stress responses, once positive social contacts are reestablished. Recently, Taylor found that vasopressin (AVP), a hormone closely related to oxytocin, similarly acts as a barometer of close relationship quality in men. Taylor’s work also explores the cultural and genetic bases of social support seeking.
Early nurturant experience is believed to help shape children’s responses to stress, conferring the ability to respond to stress with good coping skills and low biological reactivity. Correspondingly, a conflict-ridden, neglectful, or harsh family environment in childhood has been linked to a high rate of mental and physical health disorders in adulthood. Taylor’s research documents these relations and explores the mechanisms underlying them. Taylor examines socioeconomic status (a contributor to chronic stress during childhood) as an input to family environment processes; assesses family environment processes through questionnaires and/or interviews; and examines social relationships, socioemotional resources, chronic positive or negative emotional states, and alterations in biological stress regulatory systems as mediators of the impact of a nurturant or “risky” early family environment on mental and physical health outcomes. Taylor’s recent work has related this model to risk for metabolic syndrome, levels of C reactive protein, and the development of hypertension. Taylor has also explored how early family environment can lead to dramatically different phenotypes underlying a common genotype, depending on how nurturant that environment is.
Individuals Honoring Shelley E. Taylor:
Lisa G. Aspinwall, University of Utah
Bruce Baker, University of California-Los Angeles
Julienne Bower, University of California-Los Angeles
M. Audrey Burnam, RAND Corporation
Sheldon A. Cohen, Carnegie Mellon University
Rebecca L. Collins, RAND Corporation
John David Creswell, Carnegie Mellon University
Naomi Eisenberger, University of California-Los Angeles
*Susan T. Fiske, Princeton University
Constance L. Hammen, University of California-Los Angeles
Clayton J. Hilmert, North Dakota State University
Heejung Kim, University of California-Santa Barbara
James A. Kulik, University of California-San Diego
Barbara J. Lehman, Western Washington University
Rosemary R. Lichtman, University of Southern California
Sarah L. Master, University of California-Los Angeles
Wesley Moons, University of California-Davis
Anne Peplau, University of California-Los Angeles
Lien Pham, Orange Coast College
Rena Repetti, University of California-Los Angeles
Theodore F. Robles, University of California-Los Angeles
Chris Dunkel Schetter, University of California-Los Angeles
*Suzanne C. Segerstrom, University of Kentucky
David Sherman, University of California-Santa Barbara
Paula R. Skedsvold, FABBS & FABBS Foundation
Judith M. Siegel, University of California-Los Angeles
*Annette Stanton, University of California-Los Angeles
John Updegraff, Kent State University
Heidi Wayment, Northern Arizona University
Joanne Wood, University of Waterloo
* The FABBS Foundation would like to thank Dr. Susan T. Fiske, Dr. Suzanne C. Segerstrom, and Dr. Annette Stanton for nominating Dr. Taylor for this honor and for leading the effort to spread the word about her nomination.