Emotional Response May Predict How the Body Responds to Stress

New York, NY, 17 February 2011 – Your emotional response to challenging situations could predict how your body responds to stress, according to research published this month in the journal  Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.

“People who reported high levels of anger and anxiety after performing a laboratory-based stress task showed greater increases in a marker of inflammation, than those who remained relatively calm,” said Dr Judith Carroll, who conducted the study at the University of Pittsburgh. “This could help explain why some people with high levels of stress experience chronic health problems,” she added.

The investigators asked healthy middle-aged individuals to complete a speech in the laboratory in front of video camera and a panel of judges. During the speech, they monitored the physical responses to the task and then afterwards asked them about the emotions that they had experienced. 

“Most people show increases in heart rate and blood pressure when they complete a stressful task,” explained Dr Carroll, “but some also show increases in a circulating marker of inflammation known as interleukin-6. Our study shows that the people who have the biggest increases in this marker are the ones who show the greatest emotional responses to the task.” 

“Our results raise the possibility that individuals who become angry or anxious when confronting relatively minor challenges in their lives are prone to increases in inflammation,” explained lead author Dr Anna Marsland, an Associate Professor of Psychology and Nursing at the University of Pittsburgh. “Over time, this may render these emotionally-reactive individuals more vulnerable to inflammatory diseases, such as cardiovascular disease," she said.

The research, funded by the National Institute of Nursing Research, is part of a burgeoning field, known as Psychoneuroimmunology, which investigates the interactions between psychological processes and health. “This paper addresses a key question in psychoneuroimmunology – what explains individual differences in the inflammatory response to stress,” said Dr Margaret Kemeny, a Professor at the University of California, San Francisco. “These findings suggest that the specific nature of the emotional response to the task may be a key predictive factor and set the stage for future work defining these pathways and addressing their clinical implications,” she added.

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Notes to Editors: 
The article is “ Negative affective responses to a speech task predict changes in interleukin (IL)-6” by Judith E. Carroll, Carissa A. Low, Aric A. Prather, Sheldon Cohen, Jacqueline M. Fury, Diana C. Ross and Anna L. Marsland. Please see the article for the authors’ affiliations and disclosures of financial and conflicts of interest. The article appears in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, Volume 25, Number 2 (February 2011), published by Elsevier.

About Brain, Behavior, and Immunity 
Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, founded in 1987, is the official journal of the Psychoneuroimmunology Research Society (PNIRS). This innovative journal publishes peer-reviewed basic, experimental, and clinical studies dealing with behavioral, neural, endocrine, and immune system interactions in humans and animals. It is an international, interdisciplinary journal devoted to investigation of the physiological systems that integrate behavioral and immunological responses. The journal welcomes original research in neuroscience, immunology, integrative physiology, behavioral biology, psychiatry, psychology, and clinical medicine and is inclusive of research at the molecular, cellular, social, and organismic levels. The journal features online submission and review, leading to timely publication of experimental results. There are no submission fees or page charges for Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, which is published eight times a year.

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