Research: BROSSCHOT and colleagues,

Listed in Issue 39


BROSSCHOT and colleagues, Department of Clinical Psychology, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. KPBROSSCHOT@MACMAIL.PSY.UVA.NL write that although stressor uncontrollability has been demonstrated to suppress immune responses in animals and people, results are inconsistent. The authors reanalysed results from their previous study regarding stress-related immune deviation in order to establish whether perceived uncontrollability of an acute stressor is a co-determinant in the observed immunological changes.



The authors assessed 3 kinds of cognitive reactions to an acute interpersonal stressor: 1) motivation; 2) uncontrollability; and 3) guiltiness. The stress-induced changes in several types of immune cells in peripheral blood and the proliferative responses of lymphocytes to antigens and mitogens were monitored.


Compared with the control subjects and with those people who perceived high control over the experimental stress situation, those subjects perceiving low control showed a stressor-induced decrease in T helper cell numbers. Conversely, those subjects who perceived high control demonstrated an increase in the number of B cells, compared to the other two groups. The effects of perceived uncontrollability could not be accounted for by mood changes, but were related to previously experienced life stress.


Perceived uncontrollability of an acute stressor may have immuno-modulating effects over and above those of the stressor per se.


Brosschot JF et al. Experimental stress and immunological reactivity: a closer look at perceived uncontrollability. Psychosom Med 60(3): 359-61. May-Jun 1998.

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