Recent strategic planning efforts have highlighted the importance of research that elucidates the role of affect, and specifically emotion, in cancer control. Such research may have important theoretical and clinical implications for the reduction of cancer risk and the improvement in cancer outcomes.
Scientific evidence from a variety of domains suggest that affect may be a critical determinant of information processing, sensory perceptions, judgment and decision-making, cancer prevention and health promotion behaviors, and cancer outcomes. However, additional research is needed on the nature of affective phenomena, including the associations among affect and other processes/outcomes, as well as to identify underlying biological and psychological mechanisms.
Basic biobehavioral and psychological science related to cancer-related outcomes may include the following areas of examination:
- Affective responses to social experiences and potential influences on biological processes associated with cancer progression and outcome
- Affect in cancer survivorship experiences and trajectories
- Affective phenomena (e.g., emotion, stress, mood) and mechanisms by which these may influence cancer outcomes
- Associations among affect and cognition, social cognition, expectancy, hedonics, sensation, and perception
- Affective states as they relate to judgments and interpersonal processes relevant to cancer contexts, including informed consent, process of clinical cancer care (including patient provider communication), response to placebo conditions in cancer clinical trials, health communication, diet, exercise, and tobacco use
- The social environment and biological processes associated with cancer progression and outcomes
The Basic Biobehavioral and Psychological Sciences Branch (BBPSB) seeks to inform further strategic investment in affective science with expert review and workshop meetings to identify research areas of greatest potential benefit in cancer control.
In the first workshop in this series, we explored how affective science might inform important questions and gaps in knowledge along the the cancer continuum. The meeting brought leading experts in affective science together with NCI cancer prevention and control scientists. NCI scientists presented synthesized reviews of important questions in respective domains across the cancer control continuum. These presentations were followed by commentary from an affective scientist discussant, and general discussion among all scientists present.
Interesting questions emerged from the workshop deliberations, including, for example:
- In which situations, or for which outcomes, are affective reactions (such as stress or specific emotions) normative vs. maladaptive?
- Do affective states influence the biology of cancer, and vice versa?
- Does recovery from stress or negative affective states mitigate the effects of these affects on biological outcomes? Can positive affect counteract biological effects of stress or other negative affective states?
- What role do affective processes play in perception and memory as they relate to expectation?
- Is affect a source of bias in healthcare and clinical trial contexts?
- Do specific affective states or environments facilitate optimal processing of information, and can these be targeted in intervention or implemented in clinical settings?
- Is it possible to objectively disentangle affective responses from physiological sensations, pleasure, or craving? Which are the best predictors of cancer-related behaviors, and which are easiest to target or influence?
- What are the temporal dynamics of emotional responding?
- How can we best measure affect in various contexts (e.g., survivorship, aging, etc.)?
- How do shared affective states or “emotional contagion” influence cancer-related behaviors and cancer trajectories our outcomes?
- What role do affective complexity, mixed affective states, chronicity, and habituation play in health communication?
- How can we leverage existing theoretical models, methodological rigor, and empirical innovation in affective science to influence tangible cancer outcomes?
The second workshop, scheduled for April 2012, will examine the associations between emotion and stress, two affective phenomena that might have particular relevance to cancer prevention through their influence on cancer-related behaviors and biological outcomes. Research in emotion and stress use similar methodology and face similar theoretical challenges, but the lines of research in each area are often disconnected, and most researchers examine (or believe they examine) one but not the other. The goal for this workshop is to start to develop an integrated theoretical approach that would help to solve some of the pressing issues in both fields, and also stimulate their study in a cancer context.