Differences in neural activity may be putting shy people at increased risk for HIV and other infectious diseases say researchers according to a new study conducted.
Shyness has been linked to infectious disease for centuries. As early as the second century AD, doctors noted people with a "melancholic temperament" were more likely to develop illnesses. Research in modern times has supported that theory, showing introverts are more susceptible to upper respiratory infections and other problems. How being shy actually leads to an increased risk of disease, however, has been poorly understood.
This study provides the first clinical evidence that neural activity may mediate the relationship between psychological risk factors and infectious diseases. Researchers subjected 54 HIV-positive men to various stress tests, each time measuring their nervous system response. Based on the findings, each man was ranked according to his "stress personality." Investigators then followed the group for 12 months to 18 months, measuring their HIV progression and response to antiretroviral therapy.
Researchers found men who reacted negatively to stress tests and other psychological measures had viral loads that were about eight-times higher than those who were not considered to be socially inhibited. The introverts in the group also had about an eight-times poorer suppression of the virus after treatment with antiretroviral therapy.
Thus researchers believe these findings might suggest new targets for treatment among people with HIV.