Aug. 6, 2010— -- Social rejection isn't just bad for your ego, it may be harmful to your health.
The study, conducted in the lab among 124 healthy adults, found a test of social rejection triggered increases in oral levels of two inflammatory markers, Shelley Taylor, PhD, and colleagues at the University of California Los Angeles reported.
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Further testing in 31 of those participants found that one of the two inflammatory markers was associated with greater activity in brain regions linked to processing rejection-related distress, Taylor and colleagues wrote online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
While the study was small, the findings start to pin down the neural pathways that are involved in reactions to acute social stress and may help explain the "considerable variability" in susceptibility to disorders with an inflammatory component, the researchers argued.
Taylor and colleagues conducted a two-part experiment -- a standard stress test involving speaking and calculating under pressure in public and a functional magnetic resonance imaging study of brain regions active when participants were socially rejected.
In the first, 124 healthy adult volunteers took the Trier Social Stress test, which involves composing and delivering an impromptu speech to a panel of nonresponsive judges. Then they were asked to perform difficult mental arithmetic -- counting backward from 2,935 by 7s and by 13s -- while being urged to go faster by an "apparently exasperated experimenter," Taylor and colleagues wrote.
Before and after the test, the researchers collected saliva from the participants and analyzed it levels of two markers of inflammatory activity.
As expected, Taylor and colleagues wrote, levels of both markers increased significantly, and the increases were positively and significantly correlated.