Professor of Psychology
Psychologist Greg Miller's research focuses on how stress affects health. In recent years, he has become especially interested in stressors that occur during early life, and how they might reverberate across the lifespan to influence disease risks. To study issues like this, his lab brings together theories and methods from across the behavioral and biomedical sciences. His long-term goal is to establish a behaviorally and biologically plausible understanding of the connections between stress and health.
Miller has received a number of honors and awards for his research, including the Young Investigator Award from the Society for Behavioral Medicine, Herbert Weiner Early Career Award from the American Psychosomatic Society, and Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contributions to Health Psychology from the American Psychological Association. His research has received funding from the National Institutes of Health, Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, and Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Miller is President of the Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research.
Miller completed a clinical internship at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic and a subsequent postdoctoral fellowship in health psychology at Carnegie Mellon University. Before joining Northwestern, he was a faculty member at Washington University in St. Louis from 2000 to 2003 and at the University of British Columbia from 2003 to 2012.
Foundations of Health Research Center. Low socioeconomic status (SES) has consistently been linked to poor physical health outcomes for both children and adults—they are two times more likely to be hospitalized, 1.8 times more likely to be in poor health, and 1.5 times more likely to die than their higher- SES peers. These are not just an effect of poverty: Even as SES increases, the prevalence of poor health outcomes persists. A team led by Edith Chen and Greg Miller are investigating the relationship between SES and health effects. To this end, Chen and Miller have established a new center at Northwestern, the Foundations of Health Research Center, to explore the relationship between social factors and physical health across the life span for children and adults. They study psychosocial and biological pathways, like family relationships and the immune system, that link the social world to disease outcomes in the context of lung and heart disease. Grants from the National Institutes of Health support the research center.
Some of the research Miller conducts at the FHRC includes:
Stress and Health During Pregnancy: This is a collaborative study with Dr. Ann Borders of NorthShore University Hospital. Research shows that poverty increases the risk for numerous medical problems across the lifespan, and these deleterious influences begin in the earliest stages of the lifecourse. The offspring of low-income families have disproportionately high rates of growth restriction, preterm birth, and neonatal mortality, among other adverse outcomes. The goal of this project is to begin identifying some of the contextual, psychosocial, and biological pathways that underlie these disparities. We focus in particular on stressors that low-income families experience, and how they affect inflammatory activity at the maternal-fetal interface.
Childhood Origins of Cardiovascular Risk: In recent decades there has been a marked decline in morbidity and mortality from coronary heart disease (CHD) in the US. But the strength of this trend varies across demographic groups. Those of low SES continue to develop, and die from, CHD at rates more typical of the 1970’s. Most research on the origins of these disparities focuses on middle stages of the lifespan, when CHD manifests clinically. While this research has been fruitful, shifting the focus towards earlier life stages could yield valuable insights. Many pathogenic mechanisms that give rise to CHD begin in childhood, and by adolescence increasing numbers of American youth display risk factors for and preclinical signs of CHD, which themselves pattern by SES. Despite these findings, relatively little attention has been directed towards early CHD disparities. We know little about why they emerge and how they unfold developmentally.
In this NHLBI-funded study, we attempt to fill these gaps in knowledge by studying youth over a two-year period, as they transition into high school. First, we ask whether SES relates to maturation patterns in the immune system, with a focus on inflammatory processes that underlie CHD. Second, we ask whether SES relates to maturation patterns in the brain’s corticolimbic and corticostriatal circuitries, and thereby give rise to behavioral proclivities that heighten CHD risk. Finally, noting that many low-SES youth have positive health outcomes, we explore characteristics and experiences that “bend” the normative demographic curve. Along with Dr. Miller, the team involves Northwestern faculty Edith Chen, Lei Wang, Joel Voss, and Dan Mroczek, plus Elizabeth Goodman (MassachusettsIn General Hospital) and Steve Cole (UCLA).
Other Collaborations: Dr. Miller also collaborates on several other research projects, including the Family Asthma Study (Edith Chen, PI, funded by NHLBI), the Montreal Health and Aging Study (Carsten Wrosch, PI, funded by CIHR), the Early Environments and Pregnancy Study (Thomas McDade, PI, funded by NSF), and methodological studies of field-friendly methods for assessment of gene expression (with Thomas McDade, PI and Steve Cole, funded by NICHD). He also works closely with Gene Brody, at the University of Georgia, on studies of health among rural African-American youth. These studies include the SAAF Health Adults Project and The Center for Translational Prevention Science (funded by NICHD and NIDA, respectively).
Nusslock, R., and G. Miller (in press). Early-life adversity and physical and emotional health across the lifespan: A neuro-immune network hypothesis. Biological Psychiatry.
Brody, G., G. Miller, T. Yu, S. Beach, and E. Chen. 2016. Supportive family environments ameliorate the link between racial discrimination and epigenetic aging: A replication across two longitudinal cohorts. Psychological Science 27:530-541.
Miller, G., T. Yu, E. Chen, and G. Brody (in press). Self-control forecasts better psychosocial outcomes but faster epigenetic aging in low-SES youth. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 112:10325-10330.
Miller, G., G. Brody, T. Yu, and E. Chen. 2014. A family oriented psychosocial intervention reduces inflammation in low-SES African-American youth. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 111:11287-11292.
Chen, E., and G. Miller. 2013. Socioeconomic status and health: Mediating and moderating factors. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology 9: 723-749.
Chen, E., and G. Miller. 2012. Shift and persist strategies: Why being low in socioeconomic status isn't always bad for your health. Perspectives on Psychological Science 7: 135-138.
Miller, G., E. Chen, and K. Parker. 2011. Psychological stress in childhood and susceptibility to the chronic diseases of aging: Moving toward a model of behavioral and biological mechanisms. Psychological Bulletin 137: 959-997.