How Harsh Words May Hurt Your Knees
STICKS and stones may break your bones, but words might make you more likely to get arthritis. Not as catchy as the original, but it seems social rejection could trigger diseases linked to inflammation.
Psychologist George Slavich of the University of California, Los Angeles, and colleagues asked 124 volunteers to give speeches and perform mental arithmetic in front of a panel of dismissive observers. Saliva analysis showed they exhibited elevated levels of two inflammation markers. A quarter of the volunteers then played a computer game in which other players were instructed to exclude them.
Functional MRI scans showed this triggered increased activity in two brain regions associated with rejection. Participants with the highest inflammatory responses showed the greatest increases in brain activity (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1009164107).
Understanding the role the brain plays in conditions linked to inflammation - such as asthma, arthritis, cardiovascular disease and depression - will help in the development of new treatments to combat them, says Slavich.
From the abstract:
As predicted, exposure to the laboratory-based social stressor was associated with significant increases in two markers of inflammatory activity, namely a soluble receptor for tumor necrosis factor-α (sTNFαRII) and interleukin-6 (IL-6). In the neuroimaging subsample, greater increases in sTNFαRII (but not IL-6) were associated with greater activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and anterior insula, brain regions that have previously been associated with processing rejection-related distress and negative affect.
I find this a little mystifying-- shouldn't it be that increased brain activity in rejection-processing brain regions is associated with more of one of the inflammation markers? Or are they leaving the possibility open that rejection doesn't need to be processed through the brain? (Not entirely crazy-- the digestive tract has a complicated nervous system.) Or might it be that the rejection affects additional parts of the brain which weren't getting observed, and they're in charge of increasing inflammation markers?
More detail about the same study-- here's the caveat:
Taylor and colleagues cautioned that the observed associations were correlational, so that causality can't be determined. As well, they said, more research is needed to see if neural responses to social rejection are uniquely related to differences in inflammatory responses or if they are part of a more general system that can be activated by several types of negative events.
Damn, biology is complicated, even at the educated public level.
It's a big gaudy implication from an itty bitty study. And I'm going to draw further implications from it, anyway.
Note the last paragraph from the New Scientist article-- new treatments. No hint that it might make sense for people to be kinder to each other.
Sometimes trolls claim they're doing a good thing by making people tougher. One account from an ex-troll said that he actually believed that until he came to believe that he was kidding himself. (I don't think I can find the cite.)
Even if some people become tougher (a point not addressed in the itty bitty study), there's reason to think that a lot of people take damage.
Anyone know of studies on the brain or other physical effects of rejecting people?
And, of course, being nasty to fat people with the expectation that they'll get thinner and therefore healthier just might be counter-productive if you care about health.