Piotr Fedurek is a PhD candidate from the University of Roehampton. He was awarded a Leakey Foundation Research Grant during our fall 2016 cycle for his project entitled “The effect of social integration on physiological stress levels in a small-scale society.”
My research on the effect of social integration on physiological stress in a small-scale society is conducted in a hunter-gatherer society, the Hadza in Tanzania. Working with the Hadza is of particular interest for the project as it allows me to control for the potential confounding factors common in studies conducted on Western, industrialized societies, such as material wealth and institutionalized social hierarchy.
In order to measure a level of social integration of the Hadza, I use interviews to assess self-perceived integration (the method usually used in studies with humans), and I apply Social Network Analysis on observed social interactions (the method usually used in non-human primate studies). Levels of chronic stress of the study participant will be extracted from the hormone cortisol from hair samples. This method, which is minimally invasive, will allow me to measure long-term indices of stress over a period of weeks as opposed to other commonly used methods, such as salivary cortisol, which only allows for the evaluation of acute stress responses over a period of hours. Other health measures used in this study include percentage of body fat and Body Mass Index. The results of this study will not only allow me to assess how well self-reported social networks link to actual observed social interactions but also the extent to which social integration affects human health, thereby significantly furthering our understanding of social bonds in individual well-being. Similarly, by looking at the adaptive values of social integration, potential findings of this study will shed light on the role of social bonds in human evolution.