The main research methods used by the group are the following:
Laboratory methods: We use laboratory methods to test the influence of stress and other psychological factors on biological responses. These studies involve assessing patients or healthy people individually in the laboratory, measuring biological variables in response to challenging mental tasks, physical exercise, and other stimuli. A wide range of biological variables are measured, including blood pressure, heart rate and heart rate variability, cardiac output and total peripheral vascular resistance, cortisol, insulin, glucose, cholesterol and its sub-fractions, immune cells such as natural killer cells, cytokines including interleukin-6 and tumour necrosis factor alpha, cytokine gene expression, fibrinogen, von Willebrand factor, factor VIII, plasma viscosity, and blood platelet activation.
Naturalistic or ambulatory methods: These methods involve the measurement of biological responses in everyday life. The principle techniques that we use include the Day Reconstruction Method (DRM), ambulatory blood pressure monitoring with repeated measurement over the day using non-invasive portable blood pressure monitoring devices, and measurements of cortisol from saliva samples. These biological assessments are accompanied by diary ratings of location, physical activity, mood and social activity.
Interview and questionnaire methods: We use a combination of standard questionnaire measures, newly developed measures, and interview techniques to assess the psychological and social experience of participants in our studies. The measures vary between studies, but include assessments of work stress, social networks and supports, psychological coping, anger and hostility, sense of control, health behaviour, self-efficacy, risk awareness, financial strain, quality of life and self-rated health. We have developed a measure of neighbourhood problems to assess day-to-day strain in people's local environments.
Clinical methods: We use clinical samples to study disease processes in patients with established coronary heart disease. For example the ARCS study looked at participants before and after coronary artery bypass graft surgery and the TRACE study recruited myocardial infarction patients. Methods specific to this approach include electrocardiogram readings, angiogram results, and blood test results taken as part of patient's clinical care e.g. C-reactive protein and troponin. These results are used to develop a risk profile of patients and when combined with some of the other methods we use, e.g. questionnaires, can provide insight into the psychobiology of coronary heart disease.
Epidemiological methods: The use of epidemiological methods allows us to test hypotheses in large-scale samples of participants such as ELSA and Whitehall. Longitudinal statistical analysis techniques are an important part of this method which allow us to assess the temporal association between variables. Temporal precedence is one way in which we can test the cause and effect relationship between variables of interest such as depression causing coronary heart disease or vice versa.
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