Everyone experiences social stress, whether it is nervousness over a job interview, difficulty meeting people at parties, or angst over giving a speech. In a new report, UCLA researchers have discovered that how your brain responds to social stressors can influence the body's immune system in ways that may negatively affect health.
Lead author George Slavich, a postdoctoral fellow at the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, and senior author Shelley Taylor, a UCLA professor of psychology, show that individuals who exhibit greater neural sensitivity to social rejection also exhibit greater increases in inflammatory activity to social stress.
And although such increases can be adaptive, chronic inflammation can increase the risk of a variety of disorders, including asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, and depression.
The study appears in the current online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"It turns out, there are important differences in how people interpret and respond to social situations," Slavich said. "For example, some people see giving a speech in front of an audience as a welcome challenge; others see it as 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 researchers recruited 124 individuals — 54 men and 70 women — and put them into two awkward social situations. First, in the lab, the volunteers completed the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST), which involves preparing and delivering an impromptu speech and performing difficult mental arithmetic, both in front of a socially rejecting panel of raters wearing white lab coats. Mouth swabs were taken before and after the public-speaking tasks to test for changes in two key biomarkers of inflammatory activity — a receptor for tumor necrosis factor-á (sTNFáRII) and interleukin-6 (IL-6).
In a second session, 31 of the participants received an MRI brain scan while playing a computerized game of catch with what they believed were two other real people. The researchers focused on two areas of the brain known to respond to social stress — the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) and the anterior insula.
At first, the game was between all three "players." Halfway through the game, however, the research subject was excluded, leading to an experience of social rejection. The researchers then examined how differences in neural activity during social rejection correlated with differences in inflammatory responses to the TSST.
Their results showed that individuals who exhibited greater neural activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and anterior insula during social rejection in the brain scanner also exhibited greater increases in inflammatory activity when exposed to acute social stress in the lab.
"This is further evidence of how closely our mind and body are connected," Slavich said. "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."
Although increases in inflammatory activity are part of our immune system's natural response to potentially harmful situations, Slavich noted, "frequent or chronic activation of the system may increase risk for a variety of disorders, including asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and even depression."
One critical question raised by the present findings is why neural sensitivity to social rejection would cause an increase in inflammation. There are several possible reasons, the authors note. For one, since physical threats have historically gone hand in hand with social threat or rejection, inflammation may be triggered in anticipation of a physical injury. Inflammatory cytokines — proteins that regulate the immune system — are released in response to impending (or actual) physical assault because they accelerate wound-healing and reduce the risk of infection.
While short-term inflammation is useful in battling an injury, chronic inflammation arising from the mere perception of social rejection is not.
"Although the issue is complex, one solution is to not treat negative thoughts as facts," Slavich said. "If you think you're being socially rejected, ask yourself, what's the evidence? If there is no evidence, then revise your belief. If you were right, then make sure you're not catastrophizing or making the worst out of the situation."
Other UCLA authors on the study were Balwin M. Way and Naomi I. Eisenberger. The study was funded by a Society in Science: Branco Weiss Fellowship and by the National Institutes of Health.
The UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology encompasses an interdisciplinary network of scientists working to advance the understanding of psychoneuroimmunology by linking basic and clinical research programs and by translating findings into clinical practice. The center is affiliated with the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
For more news, visit the UCLA Newsroom and follow us on Twitter.
Mark Wheeler | EurekAlert!
Further reports about: > Psychoneuroimmunology > UCLA > anterior cingulate > anterior cingulate cortex > biological process > cardiovascular disease > chronic inflammation > cousins > immune system > inflammatory response > neural activity > rheumatoid arthritis > social situation > social stress > vascular disease
New study: How does Europe become a leading player for software and IT services?
03.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung (ISI)
Reusable carbon nanotubes could be the water filter of the future, says RIT study
30.03.2017 | Rochester Institute of Technology
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
Two researchers at Heidelberg University have developed a model system that enables a better understanding of the processes in a quantum-physical experiment...
Glaciers might seem rather inhospitable environments. However, they are home to a diverse and vibrant microbial community. It’s becoming increasingly clear that they play a bigger role in the carbon cycle than previously thought.
A new study, now published in the journal Nature Geoscience, shows how microbial communities in melting glaciers contribute to the Earth’s carbon cycle, a...
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
03.04.2017 | Event News
21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
21.04.2017 | Health and Medicine
21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy