Health and Behaviour
Lifestyle behaviours, such as tobacco, alcohol and caffeine use, exercise and diet, reflect the primary modifiable causes of morbidity and mortality in high income countries such as the UK. Health and Behaviour, led by Professor Marcus Munafò, focuses on understanding the relationships between such lifestyle behaviours and both physical and mental health outcomes. We use a range of methods (e.g., Mendelian randomization, negative control methods) to allow us to arrive at stronger conclusions regarding whether associations between these behaviours and these outcomes are likely to be causal and, if so, which direction they operate in. The next step is to explore the mechanisms that underlie these causal relationships, through human laboratory studies that allow us to investigate relevant cognitive and biological pathways. This understanding of mechanism in turn allows us to develop novel pharmacological and behavioural interventions to target these causal pathways, and improve physical and mental health outcomes at an individual and a population level.
Aims and Objectives
To understand developmental trajectories and determinants of health behaviours.
To conduct causal analyses of the consequences of health behaviours.
To develop interventions to modify health behaviours in adolescence and adulthood.
Smoking and schizophrenia
Cigarette smoking is common among people with mental health conditions such as schizophrenia. This may be because people with these conditions use tobacco to help manage their symptoms, or because smoking is a risk factor for these conditions. We are currently exploring these alternative possibilities, using Mendelian randomization.
Lead researcher: Suzi Gage
Key publication: Gage SH, Munafò MR. Rethinking the association between smoking and schizophrenia. Lancet Psychiatry 2015 Feb;2(2):118-9.
Smoking in pregnancy
Maternal smoking during pregnancy is associated with a range of negative physical and behavioural outcomes in the offspring, but it is not clear whether all of these associations are causal. We are exploring this, using negative control and cross-contextual methods.
Lead researcher: Amy Taylor
Key publication: Taylor AE, Howe LD, Heron JE, Ware JJ, Hickman M, Munafò MR. Maternal smoking during pregnancy and offspring smoking initiation: assessing the role of intrauterine exposure. Addiction. 2014 Jun;109(6):1013-21.
Our ability to recognise emotion in others is related to our mental health. People with high levels of depression and anxiety have a reduced ability to recognise facial emotional expressions in others. We are exploring whether it is possible to train these abilities, in order to improve mental health.
Lead researcher: Angela Attwood
Key publication: Dalili MN, Penton-Voak IS, Harmer CJ, Munafò MR. Meta-analysis of emotion Key publication: recognition deficits in major depressive disorder. Psychol Med. 2015 Apr;45(6):1135-44.
We are exploring how packaging characteristics influence behaviour. We have shown that standardised (“plain”) tobacco packaging increases the salience of health warnings, research that informed recent policies on standardised packaging. We are also investigating how glass shape influences alcohol consumption.
Lead researcher: Olivia Maynard
Key publication: Maynard OM, Attwood A, O'Brien L, Brooks S, Hedge C, Leonards U, Munafò MR. Avoidance of cigarette pack health warnings among regular cigarette smokers. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2014 Mar 1;136:170-4.