Can The Immune System Influence Social Behavior?

There are many factors that can influence people’s social behavior. On the one hand there are your skills, your culture, your perception or the attributions you make. Other factors such as gender or race may also play a role. Motivation and will can also have a significant influence on social behavior.

But what role does the immune system play in all this? What does the immune system have to do with social behavior? We find this answer in groundbreaking  research published in the journal Nature This research has found a fascinating and unexpected interaction between social behavior and the immune system.

It is well known that the immune system defends the body against harmful pathogens, but it seems to have another rather unexpected function: that of influencing a person’s social behavior. This recent finding adds to a growing body of research on the ways that the immune system shapes human behaviors and mental processes.

Social dysfunction and immune system

A team of scientists made up of researchers from the University of Virginia School of Medicine and researchers from the Massachusetts University School of Medicine has found that the immune system can produce what might be called a “social molecule”, which promotes interactivity with the rest. This suggests that some cases of social dysfunction may be related to problems in the immune system.

The study results raise the possibility that immune system defects can lead to maladaptive social behaviors, which in severe cases can be classifiable as psychiatric disorders. Researchers have called for further investigation of this topic, suggesting that this area of ​​study may lead to a better understanding of our social behavior.

Until recently , it was thought that the brain and the adaptive immune system were isolated from each other  and that any immune activity in the brain was perceived as a sign of a pathology.

Now, the researchers explain, we are not only showing that they interact closely, but that   some of our behavioral traits could have evolved because of our immune response to various pathogens. This would mean that part of our personality could be dictated by the immune system.

The brain and the immune system

Researchers have shown that a specific immune molecule,  gamma interferon, appears to be critical for social behavior. In fact, various living things, such as flies, fish, zebras, mice, and rats, activate interferon gamma responses in social situations.

Normally, this molecule is produced by the immune system in response to bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Blocking the molecule in mice, using genetic modification, caused regions of the brain to become hyperactive, causing the mice to become less social.

Restoration of the molecule restored brain connectivity and behavior to normal. The researchers note that the immune molecule plays an important role in maintaining proper social function. Thus, the researchers suggest that the relationship between people and pathogens could have directly affected the development of our social behavior,

Something that allows us to participate in the social interactions necessary for the survival of the species, while our immune system has developed defenses to protect us from the diseases that accompany those interactions. Social behavior would be related to these pathogens, since it allows them to spread.


Researchers have pointed out that a malfunctioning immune system may be responsible for social deficits in numerous neurological and psychiatric disorders. But what this could mean for autism and other conditions requires further investigation.

Researchers believe that any one molecule is unlikely to be responsible for a disease or the key to a cure. Instead, the underlying causes are likely to be much more complex than previously believed.

The discovery that the immune system and possibly the germs that can control our interactions raises many interesting possibilities for scientists, both in terms of fighting neurological disorders and understanding human behavior.

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