The Psychological Immune System

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Being rejected by three people, though, feels like a more considered judgement for the candidate. People predicted that if they were rejected they would feel about 2 points worse on a scale of 1 to 10 compared with their mood when they started the experiment.

Troubles with Bayesianism: An introduction to the psychological immune system

Immediately after rejection those for whom the rejection was easy to rationalise only felt 0. And after 10 minutes they felt just as happy as when they started the experiment. Instead of a 2 point drops on the scale of 1 to 10, they experienced a 0. Still, neither groups felt as bad as they thought they would.

And this pattern is repeated again and again across other psychology studies. In the same paper Gilbert and colleagues report studies on people getting dumped by their partners, told their personalities are deficient and academics failing to get tenure. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.

He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since But the good news is when life deals out its cruellest blows, our unconscious will be working overtime to find the upside. Soon enough most of us are on our merry way again with a bounce in our step, all thanks to the merciful but covert work of the psychological immune system. The Psychological Immune System. We get over bad moods much sooner than we predict, thanks to the covert work of the psychological immune system.

In a subsequent paper, published in a issue of Brain, Behavior, and Immunity , the researchers reported that test participants with more positive dispositions were the ones who mounted greater antibody responses to the vaccine. What the original work had shown was really the absence of an upbeat personality, not the presence of a negative one. Once positive affect was entered into the model, the independent association between negative affect and immunity disappeared. For one recent study, Segerstrom and a collaborator followed first-year law students to measure how their personalities shifted during this grueling year, and to see if their immune responses changed as a result.

Segerstrom focused on optimism as a follow-up to her previous work on that personality trait. For the CMI test, participants were first injected with an antigen either a mumps virus or a candida yeast , then given the DTH skin test two days later. Positive and negative affect were also measured as potential complicating variables.

Stress, Illness and the Immune System

Conversely, when law-school optimism decreased, CMI decreased, too. The idea that optimism can be both a rather stable personality trait and also a flexible one makes sense. As class rankings were publicized over the course of the year, however, expectations could understandably change even within a generally optimistic person.

Cohen believes the next step for the field should be to identify the mechanisms that facilitate the personality-immunity connection.

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Though the precise pathways by which personality puts its imprint on immunity remain a bit of a mystery, a number of possibilities have emerged. On the biological side, immune cells have receptors for neurotransmitters from the nervous system. Then there are behavioral pathways through which personality might influence immunity, too.


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A conscientious person, for instance, is more likely to refrain from smoking, which in turn has a known positive impact on immunity. A hostile person, on the other hand, may have a greater tendency to initiate social conflicts, which could introduce potentially harmful health factors into the equation. And of course there are always potential genetic gateways that could conceivably contribute to both personality and disease susceptibility.

The Psychological Immune System | Psychology Today

Once these pathways are better understood, then in theory it should be possible to design treatments that boost the immune function of people with certain dispositions. Simply teaching a hostile person to control his or her aggression, for instance, could have measurable trickle-down effects on the immune system. But most of us in the field are pretty optimistic that you can intervene at some level. Cohen, S. Sociability and susceptibility to the common cold.

Psychological Science , 14 , — Positive affect and health. Current Directions in Psychological Science , 15 , — In Segerstrom, S. The Oxford Handbook of Psychoneuroimmunology.


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Oxford University Press. Marsland, A.

Your Psychological Immune System

Associations between stress, trait negative affect, acute immune reactivity, and antibody response to hepatitis B injection in healthy young adults. Health Psychology , 20 , 4— Trait positive affect and antibody response to hepatitis B vaccination. Segerstrom, S. How does optimism suppress immunity? Evaluation of three affective pathways.

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Optimistic expectancies and cell-mediated immunity: The role of positive affect. Sociability and extraversion may have their effects because such individuals have more exposure to other people and their illnesses. Your email address will not be published.