Researching Genes, Behavior, and Society to Improve Population Health: A Primer in Complex Adaptive Systems as an Integrative Approach Abstract Notes Academic Article uri icon


  • Copyright 2015 by Emerald Group Publishing Limited. Purpose - This chapter introduces readers to a complex adaptive systems approach for integrating research on genes, behavior, and social structures/institutions. Until recently, scientists have resorted to reductionism as a decoding and epistemological strategy for understanding human health. The complex bonds among health's biological, behavioral, and social dimensions, however, cannot be fully grasped with reductionist schemas. Moreover, because reducing and simplifying can lead to incomplete understanding of phenomena, the resulting deficient knowledge has the potential to be harmful. Methodology/approach - To achieve its purpose, this primer will: (1) introduce fundamental notions from complexity science, useful for inquiry and practice integrating research on genes, behavior, and social structures; (2) outline selected methodological strategies employed in studying complex adaptive/dynamic systems; (3) address the question, "Specifically, how can a dynamic systems approach be helpful for integrating research on genes, behavior, and social structures/institutions, to improve the public's health?"; and (4) provide examples of studies currently deploying a complexity perspective. Originality/value - The originality/value of this primer rests in its critique of the research status quo and the proposition of an alternative lens for integrating genomic, biomedical, and sociological research to improve the public's health. The topic of complex adaptive/dynamic systems has begun to flourish within sociology, medicine, and public health, but many researchers lack exposure to the topic's basic notions and applications.

published proceedings

  • Advances in Medical Sociology

altmetric score

  • 0.75

author list (cited authors)

  • Goodson, P.

citation count

  • 2

complete list of authors

  • Goodson, Patricia

publication date

  • January 2015