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Optimism Linked to Better Health

Study of law students suggests psychological interventions can improve health

FRIDAY, March 26 (HealthDay News) -- A sense of optimism can heighten immune system responses, according to a study in the March issue of Psychological Science.

Suzanne C. Segerstrom, Ph.D., of the University of Kentucky in Lexington, and a colleague surveyed 124 first-year law students about their expectations for the future prior to the start of classes, then resurveyed them at intervals five times over the next six months that coincided with final exams, grade receipt, intern applications and other points of stress. With each survey, the students underwent delayed-type hypersensitivity (DTH) skin testing to gauge the association of stress with their immune response.

The researchers observed a correlation between optimistic expectancies and stronger cell-mediated immunity measured by DTH skin testing, which appeared stronger for positive changes in expectation (optimism) than for negative changes (dampened expectations). The interaction between optimistic expectation and immune response provides support for psychological interventions to improve health, the researchers say.

"These results provide the first evidence that changes in optimistic expectancies are accompanied by changes in immunity, as well as the first evidence for a mechanism by which this effect occurs. Changes in expectancies about law school predicted changes in cellular immune function, and this relationship could be partially accounted for by positive but not negative affect," the authors write.

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