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Emotions and Disease banner written in dark purple with a light blue background. On the left side of the words is a bedside scene in a traditional medical setting. On the right side is an image of a nerve cell.

Emotions and Disease in Historical Perspective

Theodore Brown

Woodcut from Walter Ryff (d.1548), Spiegel und Regiment der Gesundheyt, Frankfurt, 1555. In this bedside scene in a traditional medical setting, urine flaskes are on the table in the foreground. The physician is in close contact with the patient, taking the pulse and in easy visual and verbal range.
Woodcut from Walter Ryff (d. 1548),
Spiegel und Regiment der Gesundheyt,
Frankfurt, 1555.

In this bedside scene in a traditional medical setting, the physician is in close contact with the patient, taking the pulse and in easy visual and verbal range.

In the world today, science is about to validate long-held beliefs about the relationship between emotions and disease. A new field of research, exploring the connections between the neuroendocrine and immune systems, has already produced exciting discoveries which promise to confirm, in the most modern scientific terms, the influence of emotions on the onset, course, and remission of disease. For centuries and long before the first glimmerings of modern science, physicians and non-physicians alike have acknowledged that the way people felt in their minds could influence the way they responded in their bodies. When prevailing medical theory denied the very possibility of such interactions, common experience and sometimes quite startling clinical encounters suggested otherwise. The relationship between emotions and disease has often been like a haunting melody that could not be forgotten, while it has sometimes surged into full chorus.

It has been this way ever since the beginning of the Western scientific tradition. Although the specific terms of discussion have changed many times in the course of history and even though medicine has been transformed several times in the process, perceptive observers have regularly returned to the study of the interactions of body, mind and medicine. These interactions have continued to fascinate, even though they have never been completely understood. At times when the majority of physicians and scientists focused attention elsewhere, a minority refused to let the issues die. Now the issues are back again, front and center, in the convergent focus of the lay public, clinical medicine, and modern laboratory science. This exhibition highlights significant achievements and major turning points on a well-traveled historical road which is taking a turn yet again as it leads into the promising but indefinite future.