Social networks and immunosuppression during stress: Relationship conflict or energy conservation?

Suzanne C. Segerstrom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Despite the apparent health benefits of social relationships, some studies indicate that larger social networks can be associated with greater vulnerability to infectious disease, particularly if stressors are also present. Two possibilities for such effects are, first, that more social contacts lead to more negative affect and social conflict during stressors, or second, that maintaining more social contacts is an energetically costly activity, and ecologically motivated immunosuppression is one means of providing energy to maintain social resources. First-year law students (N = 76) completed questionnaires and had delayed-type hypersensitivity skin tests at five time points during their first 6 months of law school. Both moving away from home and a smaller social network associated with larger DTH responses (both p < 0.05) across all time points. However, negative affect, either broadly defined or as specific affects (hostility, sadness, guilt), did not mediate social network effects, suggesting that negative affect and social conflict are less plausible explanations than ecological immunosuppression. Ecological models would predict that temporary immunosuppression is less harmful to health in the long run than loss of social resources.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)279-284
Number of pages6
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author thanks Bann Kang, Beth Miller, Abbey Roach, and Lise Solberg Nes for their assistance with this study and acknowledges grant support from the National Institute of Mental Health (R01-MH61531).


  • Cellular immunity
  • Ecological immunology
  • Mood
  • Social

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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