Stress and the immune system

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Describe and evaluate research into stress and the immune system

Acute stressors have been shown to have a negative affect on the immune system. The relationship between stress and immune system functioning has focused on acute stressors and has found a decrease in immune cell function. For example Kiecolt-Glaser (1984) conducted a natural experiment investigating whether short-term stressors had an affect on the immune system of medical students. Blood samples were taken from each student one month before their exams, which represents a low stress period, and then also blood samples were taken during the exam period, which was considered a high stress time for the students. It was found that NK cell activity was significantly reduced in the second sample in comparison to the first sample. This shows that short-term stressors have a negative affect on the immune system.

A weakness to this study is that it has absences of population validity as the study was conducted on 75 people who were all medical students. This means that the results are not representative of the population at large due to the small sample size. Other students may also react differently and be resilient towards the study because they wouldn’t be medical students therefore they don’t understand the science behind the experiment so won’t react to it as much as understanding medical students would.

Marucha et al. (1998) conducted a study to see if exam-related immune changes affect the rate of wounds healing. Marucha et al. ‘s study was named the ‘punch biopsy’, which supported Kiecolt-Glaser’s research into acute stress and the immune system. They’re study was carried out by students being punched in the face either during the summer holidays or 3 days before an exam. The findings were that the wounds took 40% longer to heal at the time of exam periods in contrast to the summer holidays. This evidence supports Kiecolt-Glaser’s research as it shows stress affects the immune system

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