For many years, the immune system has been thought of as a stand-alone, independent mechanism. However, more recently, numerous links have been found between neuroscience and the immune system. This relatively new field is known as psychoneuroimmunology (PNI). Although ordinary people have long believed that stress can make you ill or slow down recovery, until a few decades ago this was considered little more than an old wives’ tale in the medical community— despite many first-hand accounts linking, for example, stress to skin conditions, or cancer survival to the patient’s attitude and support network.
Robert Ader, the father of this field of study, made his breakthrough discovery quite by chance. He was working on variations of the Pavlov’s dogs experiment, feeding rats sweetened water and simultaneously injecting them with a harmful drug that suppresses the immune system. As predicted, the rats were conditioned to avoid the sweet water. Ader then stopped injecting the rats but continued to offer them the sugary solution. The rats continued avoided it—but intriguingly, some of them died. It seemed to him that not only had an avoidance response been conditioned, but the drop in immunity brought on by the drug was also somehow being conditioned such that the rats still died without receiving the drug. His subsequent studies showed that his hypothesis, although mocked in the scientific community, was indeed correct, and the door was opened for studies into the relationship between the central nervous system and the immune system.
As the field of PNI grows, many different connections are being uncovered. For example: during stress the body, which believes itself to be in imminent danger, uses cortisol to activate changes in the body to ensure that energy is available for a fight-or-flight situation, including suppressing the immune system, which uses a lot of energy. In a stressed person, cortisol levels are elevated for prolonged periods of time, leading to a weakened immune system. Of course, this mechanism evolved long ago, when you were more likely to run into a hungry predator than delays on the Central line. There is also evidence emerging that Oxytocin, produced during positive interpersonal interaction including hugging and mother-infant bonding, promotes significant health benefits such as the increased speed of wound healing.
Applicants for Medicine and Psychology should consider the links between these two fields, with reference to examples. They may wish to think about the role of serendipity and accidental discovery in research, as well as how developments in medical and scientific knowledge often depend on questioning preconceived ideas.
- Pooling: Fast Facts You may have heard people talk about “pooling”, or maybe... Read more >
- Social and Political Sciences Reading List We’ve brought together a wide-ranging bibliography to help those applying... Read more >
- Download an Economics Personal Statement 2 “Beyond this essential interest in the subject, I find that... Read more >
- Oxford college snapshots With 35 colleges and Permanent Private Halls, choosing how to... Read more >
- Modern Languages and Linguistics Reading Lists Applying for languages? It’s always difficult to narrow down what... Read more >
- Oxford and Cambridge Access Schemes Oxford and Cambridge aim to offer places to the best... Read more >
- History Reading Lists The main challenge in the step up from school to... Read more >
- Download a Medicine Personal Statement 2 “Further work experience has highlighted some of the demands and challenges... Read more >
- For Your Reference: Admissions Test Factfiles The majority of Oxford courses, and an increasing number of... Read more >
- TSA Oxford mini mock & answers Thinking is very important to Oxford, so they’ve devised an... Read more >
- Download a History & English Personal Statement “Evidently reading is a major passion and Graham Greene has... Read more >
- Personal Statement Action Plan: Section 1 of 2 The UCAS personal statement will be a key part of... Read more >
- June’s Top News Stories Read more about some of the biggest news stories to... Read more >
- Maths Puzzle: a game of chess We asked one of our top Maths Oxbridge tutors for... Read more >
- BMAT overview & tips If you’re applying for Medicine, Biomedical Sciences or Veterinary Medicine you... Read more >
- Maths & Hard Sciences: answer like a pro Maths, Physics, Chemistry – they’re brilliant because there is a right... Read more >
- Cambridge’s Supplementary Application Questionnaire After you have submitted your UCAS application to apply to... Read more >
- University Admissions Tests: How Would You Reply? Here we have a few questions and answers to sample... Read more >
- The Great Collection of Past Oxbridge Interview Questions The great thing about an Oxbridge interview is that it... Read more >
- Law Reading List Cambridge Law and Oxford Law reading lists and recommended reading. Read more >
- 30 Real-Life Oxford and Cambridge Interview Questions The Oxford and Cambridge interviews are notorious for having academically... Read more >
- LNAT ‘So you want to go to Oxbridge’ Answers If you have been reading our book ‘So you want... Read more >
- Download a Medicine Personal Statement Read our sample Medicine personal statement for application tips. Read more >
- Course By Course Fact Sheet This helpful guide sets out by course what grades you... Read more >