Perspective | Published:

Social neuroscience and health: neurophysiological mechanisms linking social ties with physical health

Nature Neuroscience volume 15, pages 669674 (2012) | Download Citation

Abstract

Although considerable research has shown the importance of social connection for physical health, little is known about the higher-level neurocognitive processes that link experiences of social connection or disconnection with health-relevant physiological responses. Here we review the key physiological systems implicated in the link between social ties and health and the neural mechanisms that may translate social experiences into downstream health-relevant physiological responses. Specifically, we suggest that threats to social connection may tap into the same neural and physiological 'alarm system' that responds to other critical survival threats, such as the threat or experience of physical harm. Similarly, experiences of social connection may tap into basic reward-related mechanisms that have inhibitory relationships with threat-related responding. Indeed, the neurocognitive correlates of social disconnection and connection may be important mediators for understanding the relationships between social ties and health.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

References

  1. 1.

    , & Social relationships and mortality risk: a meta-analytic review. PLoS Med. 7, e1000316 (2010).

  2. 2.

    , & Health psychology: developing biologically plausible models linking the social world and physical health. Annu. Rev. Psychol. 60, 501–524 (2009).

  3. 3.

    & Reciprocal regulation of the neural and innate immune systems. Nat. Rev. Immunol. 11, 625–632 (2011).

  4. 4.

    The Biology of Human Longevity: Inflammation, Nutrition and Aging in the Evolution of Life Spans (Academic Press, Boston, 2007).

  5. 5.

    & Neural mechanisms of social risk for psychiatric disorders. (this volume)

  6. 6.

    & Perceived social isolation and cognition. Trends Cogn. Sci. 13, 447–454 (2009).

  7. 7.

    , & Does rejection hurt: an fMRI study of social exclusion. Science 302, 290–292 (2003).

  8. 8.

    The pain of social disconnection: examining the shared neural underpinnings of physical and social pain. Nat. Rev. Neurosci. (in the press).

  9. 9.

    & Neural correlates of giving support to a loved one. Psychosom. Med. 74, 3–7 (2012).

  10. 10.

    , & Extending animal models of fear conditioning to humans. Biol. Psychol. 73, 39–48 (2006).

  11. 11.

    et al. A general enhancement of autonomic and cortisol responses during social evaluative threat. Psychosom. Med. 71, 877–885 (2009).

  12. 12.

    & Acute stressors and cortisol responses: a theoretical integration and synthesis of laboratory research. Psychol. Bull. 130, 355–391 (2004).

  13. 13.

    & Pituitary-adrenal and sympathetic-adrenal correlates of distress and effort. J. Psychosom. Res. 24, 125–130 (1980).

  14. 14.

    et al. Social regulation of gene expression in human leukocytes. Genome Biol. 8, R189 (2007).

  15. 15.

    et al. A genomic fingerprint of chronic stress in humans: blunted glucocorticoid and increased NF-kappaB signaling. Biol. Psychiatry 64, 266–272 (2008).

  16. 16.

    et al. Social stress enhances sympathetic innervation of primate lymph nodes: mechanisms and implications for viral pathogenesis. J. Neurosci. 27, 8857–8865 (2007).

  17. 17.

    et al. From threat to fear: the neural organization of defensive fear systems in humans. J. Neurosci. 29, 12236–12243 (2009).

  18. 18.

    et al. Neural activity associated with monitoring the oscillating threat value of a tarantula. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 107, 20582–20586 (2010).

  19. 19.

    , , & Extinction learning in humans: role of the amygdala and vmPFC. Neuron 43, 897–905 (2004).

  20. 20.

    et al. A role for the human dorsal anterior cingulate cortex in fear expression. Biol. Psychiatry 62, 1191–1194 (2007).

  21. 21.

    , & Sustained conditioned responses in prelimbic prefrontal neurons are correlated with fear expression and extinction failure. J. Neurosci. 29, 8474–8482 (2009).

  22. 22.

    et al. Human cingulate cortex and autonomic control: converging neuroimaging and clinical evidence. Brain 126, 2139–2152 (2003).

  23. 23.

    , , & Central circuits patterned autonomic activity during active versus passive emotional coping. Brain Res. Bull. 53, 95–104 (2000).

  24. 24.

    Neural mechanisms of autonomic, affective and cognitive integration. J. Comp. Neurol. 493, 154–166 (2005).

  25. 25.

    , , , & Social rejection shares somatosensory representations with physical pain. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 108, 6270–6275 (2011).

  26. 26.

    , , , & The neural sociometer: brain mechanisms underlying state self-esteem. J. Cogn. Neurosci. 23, 3448–3455 (2011).

  27. 27.

    et al. Craving love? Enduing grief activates brain's reward center. Neuroimage 42, 969–972 (2008).

  28. 28.

    Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions (Oxford Univ. Press, New York, 1998).

  29. 29.

    , , , & Cerebral correlates of autonomic cardiovascular arousal: a functional neuroimaging investigation in humans. J. Physiol. (Lond.) 523, 259–270 (2000).

  30. 30.

    , & Regional cerebral blood flow correlates with heart period and high-frequency heart period variability during working-memory tasks: implications for the cortical and subcortical regulation of cardiac autonomic activity. Psychophysiology 41, 521–530 (2004).

  31. 31.

    et al. Brain mediators of cardiovascular responses to social threat. Part II. Prefrontal-subcortical pathways and relationship with anxiety. Neuroimage 47, 836–851 (2009).

  32. 32.

    et al. Perfusion functional MRI reveals cerebral blood flow pattern under psychological stress. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 102, 17804–17809 (2005).

  33. 33.

    , , , & Neural pathways link social support to attenuated neuroendocrine stress responses. Neuroimage 35, 1601–1612 (2007).

  34. 34.

    , , & Neural sensitivity to social rejection is associated with inflammatory responses to social stress. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 107, 14817–14822 (2010).

  35. 35.

    The telencephalic limbic system and experimental gastric pathology: a review. Neurosci. Biobehav. Rev. 6, 381–390 (1982).

  36. 36.

    & Neurons in medial prefrontal cortex signal memory for fear extinction. Nature 420, 70–74 (2002).

  37. 37.

    , , & Brain mediators of predictive cue effects on perceived pain. J. Neurosci. 30, 12964–12977 (2010).

  38. 38.

    et al. Deactivation of the limbic system during acute psychosocial stress: evidence from positron emission tomography and functional magnetic resonance imaging. Biol. Psychiatry 63, 234–240 (2008).

  39. 39.

    , , , & A meta-analysis of heart rate variability and neuroimaging studies: implications for heart rate variability as a marker of stress and health. Neurosci. Biobehav. Rev. 36, 747–756 (2012).

  40. 40.

    et al. Medial prefrontal cortex damage affects physiological and psychological stress responses differently in men and women. Psychoneuroendocrinology 35, 56–66 (2010).

  41. 41.

    et al. Attachment figures activate a safety signal-related neural region and reduce pain experience. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 108, 11721–11726 (2011).

  42. 42.

    et al. Decreased ventral anterior cingulate cortex activity is associated with reduced social pain during emotional support. Soc. Neurosci. 4, 443–454 (2009).

  43. 43.

    & Social support and ambulatory blood pressure: an examination of both receiving and giving. Int. J. Psychophysiol. 62, 328–336 (2006).

  44. 44.

    , , & Providing social support may be more beneficial than receiving it: results from a prospective study of mortality. Psychol. Sci. 14, 320–327 (2003).

  45. 45.

    Forebrain mechanisms in the relief of fear: the role of the lateral septum. Psychobiol. 16, 36–44 (1991).

  46. 46.

    Oxytocin may mediate the benefits of positive social interaction and emotions. Psychoneuroendocrinology 23, 819–835 (1998).

  47. 47.

    et al. Regional mu opioid receptor regulation of sensory and affective dimensions of pain. Science 293, 311–315 (2001).

  48. 48.

    & Oxytocin receptor distribution reflects social organization in monogamous and polygamous voles. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 89, 5981–5985 (1992).

  49. 49.

    et al. Role of endogenous opioid system in the regulation of the stress response. Prog. Neuropsychopharmacol. Biol. Psychiatry 25, 729–741 (2001).

  50. 50.

    , , , & The mu-opioid receptor mediates morphine-induced tumor necrosis factor and interleukin-6 inhibition in toll-like receptor 2–stimulated monocytes. Anesth. Analg. 106, 1142–1149 (2008).

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles, California, USA.

    • Naomi I Eisenberger
  2. Division of Hematology-Oncology, Department of Medicine, University of California Los Angeles School of Medicine, Los Angeles, California, USA.

    • Steve W Cole
  3. Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of California, Los Angeles, California, USA.

    • Steve W Cole
  4. Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, University of California, Los Angeles, California, USA.

    • Steve W Cole
  5. University of California Los Angeles Molecular Biology Institute, Los Angeles, California, USA.

    • Steve W Cole

Authors

  1. Search for Naomi I Eisenberger in:

  2. Search for Steve W Cole in:

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Naomi I Eisenberger.

About this article

Publication history

Published

DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nn.3086

Further reading