The beneficial effects of social support and prosocial behavior on immunity and health: A psychoneuroimmunology perspective

Brain Behav Immun Health. 2024 Mar 18;37:100758. doi: 10.1016/j.bbih.2024.100758. eCollection 2024 May.


The COVID-19 pandemic emphasized the pivotal role of the social environment, prompting a surge in research on its impact on well-being and health. This article aims to examine the link between the social environment, the immune system, and health outcomes, with a particular focus on positive aspects like social support and prosocial behaviors that are under-explored. Different aspects of the social environment are examined: the negative effects of loneliness and adverse social conditions, contrasted with the benefits of social support and prosocial behaviors. While the mechanisms behind negative effects are partially studied, those driving the positive effects remain elusive. Understanding the mechanisms of lack of social connection and their effects will allow us to explore the benefits of social connections and whether they can reverse the adverse outcomes. Potential psychoneuroimmunology mechanisms are proposed, highlighting the promotion of a ‘safe’ state by the vagus nerve, oxytocin circuits, and the additional contribution of the reward pathways. This article reviews the need to bridge knowledge gaps, urging further research to study the causal effects of positive social interactions on immune response and health outcomes to raise clinical awareness and interventions. Such interventions may include integrating lonely individuals with prosocial activities, thereby improving their physical and mental health. There is growing potential to harness the power of social connections for the betterment of individual health and society as a whole.

PMID:38524896 | PMC:PMC10960128 | DOI:10.1016/j.bbih.2024.100758