Social neuroscience: Autonomic, neuroendocrine, and immune responses to stress


  • This paper is based on the presidential address to the Society for Psychophysiological Research, Rottach-Egern, Germany, October 30, 1993.

  • The research described in this paper is the result of an interdisciplinary collaboration with Gary G. Berntson (Department of Psychology), Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser (Department of Psychiatry), William B. Malar-key (Department of Medicine), and Ronald Glaser (Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology). This research would not have been possible without their collaboration and support, and their contributions and friendship are gratefully acknowledged. In addition, Bert N. Uchino, Karen S. Quigley, and Robert C. MacCallum (Department of Psychology), John Sheridan (Department of Oral Biology), Philip Binkley (Division of Cardiology), and Sandra A. Sgoutas-Emch (Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology) were important contributors to many aspects of this research, and Michael G. H. Coles, Edward S. Katkin, and J. Richard Jennings provided helpful comments on an earlier draft of this article.

  • This research was supported partially by National Science Foundation Grant No. DBS-9211483, National Institute of Mental Health Grant No. MH42096, and National Center for Research Resources Grant No. M01-RR00034.

Address reprint requests to John T. Cacioppo, Department of Psychology, Ohio State University, 1885 Neil Avenue, Columbus, Ohio 43210-1222, or e-mail at


The immune system is influenced by central nervous system processes that are shaped by social and psychological factors. Considerations of social factors, intrapersonal processes, and autonomic psychophysiology therefore may contribute to a fuller understanding of both immune and brain function. Research reviewed here (a) examines the socioemotional factors that contribute to, or moderate, responses to brief and chronic stressors, (b) determines whether or not stable individual differences in heart rate reactivity predict neuroendocrine and immune responses to a brief psychological stressor and to an influenza virus vaccine, and (c) investigates the autonomic origins of individual differences in low and high heart rate reactivity and their relationship to neuroendocrine and immune responses to chronic and acute stressors. Among our findings are: (a) acute psychological stressors activate the sympathetic adrenomedullary system across individuals and affect immune function; and (b) individuals characterized by high sympathetic cardiac reactivity to acute psychological stressors also show a relative activation of the hypothalamic pituitary adrenocortical system and altered immune function.