Are Introverts More Prone to Sickness?

Heads up for the introverts! How you react to stress greatly affects your resistance to diseases and viruses including HIV. This was discovered by scientists in the UCLA AIDS Institute. According to the December 15 edition of Biological Psychiatry, it was found out that the immune mechanism of shy people makes them more susceptible to infection compared to the outgoing people.

Dr. Steve Cole, principal investigator and assistant professor of hematology-oncology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and a member of the UCLA AIDS Institute, physicians in ancient Greece have noticed that those with a “melancholic temperament” are more vulnerable to viral infections.

Dr. Bruce Naliboff, co-author and a clinical professor at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute and Veterans Affairs Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, relayed that during the AIDS epidemic, introverted people have been found to get sick and die sooner than extroverted people. Their study zeroed in on the mechanism that connects personality and disease.

Studying the effect of stress on viral replication in a group of 54 HIV-infected men, the UCLA team noted that all of the men were still in the early stages of the disease and in good health. Each of them had high T-cell counts with detectable blood levels of the virus.

To measure the response of the men’s autonomic nervous system, each man was put through a series of laboratory stress tests. The researchers monitored the subject’s response to a tiny stimulus, such as an unexpected beeping sound. They also measured the heart rate, skin moisture, and dilation of blood vessels. These blood vessels contract during stress to direct blood to the legs for fight or flight.

Dr. Cole explained that shy persons didn’t adapt to the beeps as fast as the others. The sound was more irritating to them, as indicated by their heightened nervous system response.

Each man was asked to perform physical exercises that require the nervous system to quickly adapt, such as deep breathing or standing from a seated position. They were also asked to perform rapid mental arithmetic, replying curtly if the subject provided the wrong answer and requiring him to start over.


The UCLA team measured each subject’s overall “stress personality” by totaling his nervous system’s reactions during two physical and mental testing periods. They also monitored each man’s HIV viral load and T-cells for 12 to 18 months, which AID destroys to assess the link between nervous system activity and HIV progression.

During the evaluation time, some of the subjects began antiretroviral drug therapy. They traced their viral loads and T-cell counts to study their responses to the drugs. If there was a boost in T-cells, then the subject is recovering from HIV on antiretroviral drugs. Dr. Cole concluded that there was a strong linear relationship between personality and HIV replication rate in the body. He further added that shy people with high stress responses had higher viral loads.

The scientists found out that introverted HIV patients’ immune systems replicated the virus 10 to 100 times faster than other patients and that antiretroviral drugs barely affected the disease.

This is good news for the extroverts because they indeed have stronger immunity and the opposite is true for the introverts. If you are too introverted, you better start moving towards the outgoing line. Better yet, take extra measures to strengthen your immune system and lessen you chances of getting sick.

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