The role of emotion in disease: historical perspectives

Emotions (of the ‘passions’) have for many centuries been implicated in the aetiology of both mental and physical diseases. Although the place of emotions in disease was largely displaced during the nineteenth century by more specific bacteriological and pathological accounts of illness, interest in the emotions and human health persisted.

This lecture will reflect on modern understandings of the role of emotions by focusing on three inter-related areas of medicine: early twentieth-century laboratory and clinical studies of shock and disease; mid-twentieth century accounts of the impact of emotional stress on health; and late twentieth-century formulations of midlife as a period of potential emotional, psychological and spiritual crisis.