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Social ties boost immune function.

Monkeys whose social lives unfold in groups that continually lose established members and replace them with new recruits experience marked stress that apparently weakens the ability of their immune systems to fight disease, according to psychologist Sheldon Cohen of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and his colleagues. However, monkeys who cultivate social bonds with their peers under these difficult circumstances inoculate themselves against immune decay, the researchers report in the September PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE.

This project represents the first experimental study of any animal's immune response to long-term social upheaval.

Cohen's team studied 43 healthy, adult male macaques housed for 14 months in unchanging groups of four or five. The monkeys were then assigned at random to one of two conditions for the next 26 months: 21 lived in "unstable" groups, in which three or four monkeys departed each month to reside with another group, and 22 remained in their previous group.

Weekly observations indicated that "affiliative" behavior, such as friendly touching or grooming of another animal, occurred more often in unstable groups and may represent an attempt to dampen social stress, Cohen's team contends. High levels of affiliative behavior appeared in 14 animals living in unstable groups, compared with eight in stable groups.

In the three weeks that followed the study, monkeys in unstable groups also displayed, on average, a weaker proliferation of white blood cells in response to a substance that induces such cells to divide. Sluggish white blood cell responses appeared most pronounced among residents of unstable groups who had engaged in few affiliative gestures.

These findings may not apply to humans, the scientists note. But they suspect that macaques will provide a good animal model for understanding how the human immune system responds to psychological and social stress.
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Title Annotation:experiments of animals' reactions to stress
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Oct 10, 1992
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