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Home » The Science Behind How Sickness Shapes Your Mood: Keely Muscatell (Transcript)

The Science Behind How Sickness Shapes Your Mood: Keely Muscatell (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of Keely Muscatell’s talk titled “The Science Behind How Sickness Shapes Your Mood” at TED conference.

Listen to the audio version here:


All right, I’d like you to take a moment. Think about a time when you were recently sick. Try specifically to think of a time when, even though you weren’t feeling all that great, you still felt well enough to get up out of bed and go about your day. OK, what was your mood like? Did you feel a little sad or depressed? What types of social interactions did you want to have? Would you have wanted to go to a cocktail party full of strangers or out on a first date?

I’m a psychology professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and for the past 15 years, I’ve been studying the interconnections between physiological changes happening in the body during sickness and psychological and social well-being.

The Field of Social Psychoneuroimmunology

Specifically, my lab studies social psychoneuroimmunology, which is a mouthful to say, and is a field of research that’s dedicated to discovering interactions between our social experiences, psychological processes, and the immune system. Today, I want to tell you about some research showing that the same physiological changes happening in your body that cause the physical symptoms you have when you’re sick, are also shaping your mood and your social behavior.

In other words, changes in the immune system can signal to the brain to cause us to think, feel, and act differently. And not only that, but also our social experiences can cause changes in our immune systems. So purely psychological things happening in our brains can cause the immune system to ramp up or ramp down.

The Immune System and Psychological Well-being

Because of that, we can get caught in these vicious cycles where our psychological experiences can cause changes in our immune system, and those immunological shifts can cause changes to our psychological experiences.

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