Psychology Meets Biology in COVID-19

webinar screenshot

What we know and why it matters for public health

A recent webinar, organized by Sarah Pressman, professor of psychological science, and graduate student Cameron Wiley, for the Association for Psychological Science as part of the APS's Global Collaboration on COVID-19, explores the psychological and social factors in health inequalities. Roxane Cohen Silver, vice provost of academic planning and institutional research and Distinguished Professor of psychological science, medicine, and public health, serves as a discussant and Pressman moderates.

Leading scientists share what was known about the importance of psychosocial factors for health and physiology before the COVID-19 pandemic, and what the evidence tells us about the importance of these factors now. They reveal how pandemic survival and recovery is not just about whether you get the virus; it’s also about the complex interactions between the virus, ourselves, our social surroundings, and so much more. 

Pressman offers these takeaways:

1. There is extensive research on the many psychosocial and cultural factors that play a large and potent role in COVID-19 relevant outcomes including risk of illness upon exposure, severity and duration of illness, whether or not you get a vaccine, and how your body then responds when you do get immunized. These include things like anxiety, stress, social isolation, loneliness, discrimination, fatigue and more that have a damaging effect on immune health and well-being. There are also positive factors like positive emotions and social support which can play a protective role against the health harms of stress, and also improve health and immune function on their own.

2. The very factors that are used to mitigate COVID-19 (e.g., social separation/distancing, school closures) and the relating stress and isolation that arises from these, are the very factors that scientists have long shown to be damaging for immune health, vaccination responses, and even negative disease outcomes in people with similar problems to long COVID. This highlights the need for psychological scientists to work with pandemic planners as these mitigation strategies are made and form cost-benefit analyses that are informed by what we know about psychosocial effects on immune health.

3. We need to do a better job getting information about these factors out to the public, public health experts, epidemiologists, and government officials who often do not even know that these well validated and replicated findings are out there on key mind-body connections relevant to the pandemic.

The recorded webinar is available on YouTube.

Mimi Ko Cruz
Director of Communications