Observer Forum

A Wealth of Opportunity

The wealth disparities article [Observer, November 2003] demonstrated how the techniques of psychology can enhance a variety of disciplines ranging from geography to marketing. Likewise, the knowledge produced within psychology can be valuable to others.

For example, Nancy Adler’s findings that physical health may be affected more by subjective rather than objective social status should be fascinating to a wide academic audience: Political scientists and sociologists might hypothesize health differences among those whose attitudes about wealth and social status are products of a Capitalist, Marxist, or Christian belief-system; education professors might notice some connections with self-esteem research; theologians might recall Lenin’s statement that if Russia only had 10 St. Francis of Assisi’s, there would have been no need for the revolution; finally, philosophers could appreciate data indicating that sometimes mental phenomena can underlie the physical, rather than vice versa.

Richard Rubes
United States Army

Worlds Apart

One cannot but be struck by the wide gulf between the different views of mental health and psychopathology appearing in the articles on the first page of the November [2003] Observer, one linking socioeconomic stress to illness, and the other – the interview with NIMH director Tom Insel – focusing only on neuroscience research.

There was a time when NIMH embraced all aspects of behavioral study, using a widely diverse staff of psychoanalysts, sociologists, anthropologists, social workers, and social psychologists in addition to, of course, neuroscientists. They all worked together in true interdisciplinary fashion.

Those days seem gone, as neuroscientists and related cognitive scientists claim a monopoly on science. Areas such as social stress, poverty, minorities, and culture are no longer seen as issues at NIMH, as the Institute narrows itself to a biomedical model (much of it based on technological advances rather than adequate theory, as Insel noted). Let us hope this division does not represent an impermeable barrier between two uncommunicative worlds, thus depriving the public of a true understanding of mental health.

Milton F. Shore
APS Fellow

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