Laboratory for the Study of Stress, Immunity, and Disease


Left to right: Melissa Zajdel, Sheldon Cohen, Brian Chin, Michael Murphy

In our laboratory we study the role of psychological and social factors in health. Much of our work focuses on the possibility that our psychological states and traits may influence our immune systems in a manner that might alter out bodies' abilities to fight off infectious disease. The core of this work is the identification of the behavior and biological pathways that can account for relations between psychosocial factors and susceptibility to infectious illness. However, a number of our projects focus more generally on the roles of stress, social support, social status, and personality in behavioral, immune and endocrine response. We feel that each of these approaches contributes to our understanding of how our psychosocial environments get inside our bodies.

In one phase of our work, we established that acute laboratory stress alters immune function and demonstrated that these effects are mediated by sympathetic nervous system activation. In a second phase, using human volunteers, we showed that psychological stress and social network ties are associated with our ability to resist common colds. Finally, using nonhuman primates, we found associations between chronically stressful situations, social affiliation, and immune function, as well as the importance of social status for resistance of infection. We continue to combine laboratory and field studies in an attempt to provide convincing behavioral and biological explanations for the relations between psychosocial factors and illness susceptibility.

This is a psychological laboratory and we have a particular interest in understanding the exact nature of psychological and social characteristics that have implications for disease. Hence members of the laboratory are involved in studies focusing on the number and quality of our daily interactions as predictors of psychological, endocrine, and immune response. Others are working on understanding the psychological bases for biases in reporting symptoms, defining oneself as ill, and seeking health care. Still others are studying the importance of emotional responses in the relation between psychosocial factors and health outcomes. Ongoing studies focus on the effects of interpersonal relationships and positive and negative affective styles.

To view full-text (pdf or html) versions of many articles and book chapters generated by Dr. Cohen and the Laboratory, please click on "Vita" (at left). Carnegie Mellon University's Research Showcase also offers some of Dr. Cohen's publications, at no charge.

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