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Research Spending & Results

Award Detail

Doing Business As Name:University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Keely A Muscatell
  • (919) 843-9113
Award Date:04/15/2021
Estimated Total Award Amount: $ 731,958
Funds Obligated to Date: $ 594,227
  • FY 2021=$594,227
Start Date:05/01/2021
End Date:04/30/2026
Transaction Type:Grant
Awarding Agency Code:4900
Funding Agency Code:4900
CFDA Number:47.075
Primary Program Source:040100 NSF RESEARCH & RELATED ACTIVIT
Award Title or Description:CAREER: Bidirectional links between social experiences and the immune system
Federal Award ID Number:2047344
DUNS ID:608195277
Parent DUNS ID:142363428
Program:Social Psychology
Program Officer:
  • Steven J. Breckler
  • (703) 292-7369

Awardee Location

Street:104 AIRPORT DR STE 2200
County:Chapel Hill
Awardee Cong. District:04

Primary Place of Performance

Organization Name:University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Street:104 AIRPORT DR STE 2200
County:Chapel Hill
Cong. District:04

Abstract at Time of Award

Decades of research has demonstrated important connections between the mind and the body. Indeed, social experiences cause numerous changes in physiology, and physiological changes influence cognition and behavior. Most research in this area has focused on the cardiovascular, endocrine, and nervous systems. This project focuses on the immune system – a powerful physiological system with connections to social life that are less often the focus of research. Understanding interactions between the immune system and social experiences may hold the key to understanding the impacts of racial discrimination, social stress, social connection, and social aggression on health, well-being, and productivity. Specifically, the current research considers the ways in which both negative and positive social experiences are interconnected with the immune system. Relating to negative social experiences, the project examines whether a simulated experience of racial discrimination leads to increases in inflammation and reductions in immune system functioning among Black Americans. The research also examines whether a naturally-occurring challenge to the immune system, the flu vaccine, causes an increase in social defeat behavior in aggressive social interactions. With regard to positive social experiences, the research explores the potential buffering effect of support-giving on the negative immune-related impacts of stress, as well as how an immune challenge influences behavior in interactions with both close others and strangers. More broadly, the project contributes new and refined methods for measuring and manipulating the immune system, contributing to the broader scientific community involved in research on connections between social experiences and the immune system. The objective of the project is to integrate theory and methods from experimental social psychology and psychoneuroimmunology to advance the burgeoning field of “social psychoneuroimmunology”. Three experimental studies test four key hypotheses that build on foundational research in animals and a small but critical empirical literature in humans. The studies examine the bi-directional connections between the immune system and both negative and positive social experiences. The negative experiences upon which the research focuses include race-related stress and social defeat. The positive social experiences include providing social support to a loved one and interacting with a close-other. The project also seeks to refine and advance methods for measuring and manipulating the immune system. As an alternative to methods that depend on collection of blood samples and intensive immune challenges, this project develops the viability of simpler assessments (based on dried blood spots, histamine skin pricks, and commonly-administered vaccines) that offer greater potential for widespread utilization. The new techniques will be made accessible to other researchers, expanding opportunities for further advances in the field. The project addresses some of the most pressing questions facing society today, including how race-related stress impacts the immune system to influence health, well-being, and education outcomes for diverse Americans, and how the fundamental human need of connecting with others influences and is influenced by the immune system. This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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