Dispositional optimism and stress-induced changes in immunity and negative mood

Lena Brydon*, Cicely Walker, Andrew J. Wawrzyniak, Henrik Chart, Andrew Steptoe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

100 Citations (Scopus)


Evidence suggests that optimism may be protective for health during times of heightened stress, yet the mechanisms involved remain unclear. In a double-blind placebo-controlled study, we recently showed that acute psychological stress and an immune stimulus (Typhim-Vi typhoid vaccine) synergistically increased serum levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6) and negative mood in 59 healthy men. Here we carried out further analysis of this sample to investigate the relationship between dispositional optimism and stress-induced changes in immunity and mood. Volunteers were randomly assigned to one of four experimental conditions in which they received either typhoid vaccine or saline placebo, and then rested or completed two mental tasks. In the stress condition, optimism was inversely related to IL-6 responses, independent of age, BMI, trait CES-D depression and baseline IL-6. This relationship was present across both stress groups (combining vaccine and placebo) and was not present in the vaccine/stress group alone, suggesting that optimism protects against the inflammatory effects of stress rather than vaccine per se. Typhoid vaccine induced a significant increase in participants' circulating anti-Vi antibody levels. Stress had no effect on antibody responses overall. However, in the vaccine/stress group, there was a strong positive association between optimism and antibody responses, indicating that stress accentuated the antibody response to vaccine in optimists. Across the complete sample, more optimistic individuals had smaller increases in negative mood and less reduction in mental vigour. Together these findings suggest that optimism may promote health, by counteracting stress-induced increases in inflammation and boosting the adjuvant effects of acute stress.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)810-816
Number of pages7
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by the British Heart Foundation. We are grateful to Dr. Daisy Whitehead for her involvement in data collection, and Drs. Akira Tsuda, Hisayoshi Okamura and Jumpei Yajima for assistance with cortisol measures. We also thank Dr. Linda Perkins-Porras, Dr. Mimi Bhattacharyya, Bev Milne and Bev Murray for their help with vaccination.


  • IL-6
  • Immune response
  • Mood
  • Optimism
  • Psychological stress
  • Vaccination


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