Stress and bias prove a winning BA formula

July 9, 2004

Groundbreaking research that suggests that our response to stressful situations such as divorce or losing a job is written in our genes has landed Terrie Moffitt a British Academy fellowship.

Professor Moffitt, a psychiatrist at King's College London, was among 35 new fellowships announced by the academy last week in recognition of outstanding contributions to the arts, humanities and social sciences.

She is one of nine women to become fellows after the national academy's annual general meeting, held last week. Each year, the BA, which promotes the humanities and the social sciences, appoints new fellows to add to its 750-strong membership.

Fellows are judged to have "attained distinction in any of the branches of study which it is the object of the academy to promote".

Up to three scholars who have reached the age of 70 are also elected each year as senior fellows.

Cambridge University boasts the highest number of new fellows this year, accounting for a fifth of the awards, which cover a range of subjects in the social sciences and humanities.

Professor Moffitt's research focuses on the nature versus nurture debate - whether it is our genes or the environment in which we live that determines our ability to cope with stressful or difficult situations.

Her latest research has found that a combination of a high-risk genotype and stressful or difficult events can result in an increased risk of episodes of depression.

"We don't yet know how specific genes operate, we have only documented their connection with behaviour," she said. "More research is needed to find out exactly how they influence brain transmissions."

Susan Mendus, a political philosopher at York University, was awarded a fellowship. Although impartiality has traditionally been considered desirable in moral and political philosophy, Professor Mendus' latest research examines the extent to which it is permissible to favour the familiar over the unfamiliar.

"I don't think impartiality is moral," she said. "A tendency to favour your friends and loved ones over strangers can be perfectly legitimate."

NEW FELLOWS

The following 35 scholars were elected fellows of the British Academy:

Philip Allott (Cambridge University), law

David Arnold (School of Oriental and African Studies), history

Orazio Attanasio (University College London), economics

Hugh Beale (Warwick University), law

James Beckford (Warwick), sociology

Maxine Berg (Warwick), history

James Binns (York University), literature

Peter Bowler (Queen's University, Belfast), history of science

Craig Clunas (Soas), history of art

Antony Duff (Stirling University), legal philosophy

Eamon Duffy (Cambridge), history

Richard Fardon (Soas), anthropo-logy

William Hardcastle (Queen Margaret University College, Edinburgh),

linguistics

Simon Hornblower (UCL), classics

Nicholas Jardine (Cambridge), history of science

Ann Jefferson (Oxford University), French literature

Sarah Kay (Cambridge), French literature

Annette Kuhn (Lancaster University), film studies

Jane Lewis (Oxford), sociology

Donald MacKenzie (Edinburgh University), sociology

Susan Mendus (York), political studies

Richard Middleton (Newcastle University), musicology

Steven Mithen (Reading University), archaeology

Terrie Moffitt (King's College London), psychology

Michael Moran (Manchester University), political studies

Sheilagh Ogilvie (Cambridge), economic history

Richard Portes (London Business School), economics

John Ray (Cambridge), Egyptology Ritchie Robertson (Oxford), German

literature

Peter Simons (Leeds University), philosophy

Chris Skinner (Southampton University), social statistics

John Sloboda (Keele University), psychology

Peter Taylor (Loughborough University), geography

David Trotter (Cambridge), English literature

Frances Young (Birmingham University), theology

Senior Fellows:

David Harris (UCL), geography

John Oates (Cambridge), archaeologyPeter Townsend (Bristol University),

sociology

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