Daniel E. Adkins, Kelli M. Rasmussen, and Anna R. Docherty
It is well established that extreme social adversity can lead to negative health outcomes decades after the resolution of the precipitating environmental insult. Although the underlying mechanisms through which such adversity gets “under the skin” to become biologically embedded have long been considered a black box, recent research has indicated an important mediating role for epigenetic mechanisms—molecular modifications that regulate gene activity without changing the DNA sequence. With technical and scientific developments now enabling genome-wide epigenetic studies in humans, behavioral researchers have an unprecedented opportunity to empirically map the ways in which social dynamics become epigenetically embedded, influencing downstream gene expression, health, and behavior. This chapter examines the current state of social epigenetics research and discusses the opportunities and challenges facing this emerging field.