Stress caused by social situations, such as giving a speech or going to a job interview, can affect some people's immune system in ways that harm their health, researchers have found.
The study included 124 volunteers who were purposely put into awkward social situations. Those who exhibited greater neural sensitivity to social rejection also had greater increases in inflammatory activity when exposed to social stress.
"It turns out there are important differences in how people interpret and respond to social situations," lead author George Slavich, a postdoctoral fellow at the Cousins Centre for Psychoneuroimmunology at the University of California, Los Angeles, said in a UCLA news release.
"For example," he explained, "we sometimes see giving a speech in front of an audience as a welcomed challenge; other times, it's threatening and distressing. In this study, we sought to examine the neural bases for these differences in response, and to understand how these differences relate to biological processes that can affect human health and well-being."
The findings provide "further evidence of how closely our mind and body are connected. We have known for a long time that social stress can 'get under the skin' to increase risk for disease, but it's been unclear exactly how these effects occur. To our knowledge, this study is the first to identify the neurocognitive pathways that might be involved in inflammatory responses to acute social stress," Slavich said.
Increases in inflammatory activity are part of the immune system's natural response to potentially harmful situations, but "frequent or chronic activation of the system may increase the risk for a variety of disorders, including asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease and even depression," Slavich added.
The study was released online in advance of publication in an upcoming print issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (August 2010)
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