Psychological stressors reliably trigger systemic inflammatory activity as indexed by levels of proinflammatory cytokines. This experiment demonstrates that one's specific emotional reaction to a stressor may be a significant determinant of whether an inflammatory reaction occurs in response to that stressor. Based on extant correlational evidence and theory, a causal approach was used to determine whether an avoidant emotion (anxiety) triggers more inflammatory activity than an approach emotion (anger). In an experimental design (N = 40), a 3-way Emotion Condition × Time × Analyte interaction revealed that a writing-based anxiety induction, but not a writing-based anger induction, increased mean levels of interferon-γ (IFN- γ) and interleukin-1β (IL-1β), but not interleukin-6 (IL-6) in oral mucous, F(2, 54) = 4.64, p = .01, ηp(²) = .15. Further, self-reported state anxiety predicted elevated levels of proinflammatory cytokines, all ΔR(²) >.06, ps <.04, but self-reported state anger did not. These results constitute the first evidence to our knowledge that specific negative emotions can differentially cause inflammatory activity and support a theoretical model explaining these effects based on the avoidance or approach motivations associated with emotions.
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