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Optimism May Boost Immune System
Date:3/25/2010

Small study found that attitude seems to affect health

THURSDAY, March 25 (HealthDay News) -- An optimistic outlook might strenghten your body's ability to fight off infection, new research suggests.

The finding doesn't prove that looking on the sunny side leads to better health, but it does add to evidence of a link between attitude and disease by suggesting that "a single person -- with the same personality and genes -- has different immune function when he or she feels more or less optimistic," said study author Suzanne C. Segerstrom, a professor in the department of psychology at the University of Kentucky.

From 2001 to 2005, Segerstrom and a colleague gave surveys to 124 first-year law students. The students, the majority of whom were white (90 percent) and female (55 percent), answered questions about topics such as their levels of optimism about their success in school.

The participants also were given an injection of an antigen that makes the immune system react by creating a bump on the skin. A bigger bump means that the immune system reaction is stronger.

The researchers, who reported their findings in the March issue of Psychological Science, found that the immune response became more powerful in individual students as they became more optimistic over time, and lessened as they became more pessimistic.

But there's more to it. "When people felt more optimistic, they also felt more happy, attentive and joyous, and that accounted for some of the relationship between optimism and immunity," Segerstrom said.

In the big picture, the findings suggest that the effect of optimism on immunity may be limited, "as it leaves room for lots of other factors that contribute to fluctuations in immunity over time," she said.

James E. Maddux, a professor of psychology at George Mason University, said the findings are "another example of the power of optimism, of what used to
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