Journal of Behavioral Medicine

, Volume 24, Issue 5, pp 441–467 | Cite as

Optimism, Goal Conflict, and Stressor-Related Immune Change

  • Suzanne C. Segerstrom


Although optimism is usually conceptualized as a buffer against stressor-related changes in the immune system, some contradictory findings have emerged. The present research proposed that when facing conflicting goals, optimists are more likely to remain engaged with both goals and to experience higher short-term stress as a consequence. Optimists were therefore predicted to fare worse than pessimists immunologically when facing academic–social goal conflict but to fare better when not facing goal conflict. In the Study 1 sample (n = 48), optimism was associated with higher numbers of CD4+ cells among first-year law students who were less likely to have academic–social conflict and with lower numbers of CD4+ cells at midsemester among students who were more likely to have conflict. The results replicated in the Study 2 sample of law students (n = 22) using delayed-type hypersensitivity testing. Optimists may be subject to short-term physiological costs in their persistence to gain long-term rewards.

optimism stressors goals immune system 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Aiken, L. S., and West, S. G. (1991). Multiple Regression: Testing and Interpreting Interactions, Sage, Newbury Park, CA.Google Scholar
  2. Baron, R. M., and Kenny, D. A. (1986). The moderator-mediator variable distinction in social psychological research: Conceptual, strategic, and statistical considerations. J. Person. Soc. Psychol. 51: 1173–1182.Google Scholar
  3. Bolger, N., and Eckenrode, J. (1991). Social relationships, personality, and anxiety during a major stressful event. J. Person. Soc. Psychol. 61: 440–449.Google Scholar
  4. Byrnes, D. M., Antoni, M. H., Goodkin, K., Efantis-Potter, J., Asthana, D., Simon, T., Munajj, J., Ironson, G., and Fletcher, M. A. (1998). Stressful events, pessimism, natural killer cell cytotoxicity, and cytotoxic/suppressor T cells in HIV + Black women at risk for cervical cancer. Psychosom. Med. 60: 714–722.Google Scholar
  5. Carron, A. V., Hausenblas, H. A., and Mack, D. (1996). Social influence and exercise: A meta-analysis. J. Sport Exercise Psychol. 18: 1–16.Google Scholar
  6. Carver, C. S., and Scheier, M. F. (1998). On the Self-Regulation of Behavior, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  7. Carver, C. S., Kus, L. A., and Scheier, M. F. (1994). Effects of good versus bad mood and optimistic versus pessimistic outlook on social acceptance versus rejection. J. Soc. Clin. Psychol. 13: 138–151.Google Scholar
  8. Clark, E. J., and Rieker, P. P. (1986). Gender differences in relationships and stress of medical and law students. J. Med. Educ. 61: 32–40.Google Scholar
  9. Cohen, F., Kearney, K. A., Zegans, L. S., Kemeny, M. E., Neuhaus, J. M., and Stites, D. P. (1999). Differential immune system changes with acute and persistent stress for optimists vs. pessimists. Brain Behav. Immun. 13: 155–174.Google Scholar
  10. Emmons, R. A., and King, L. A. (1988). Conflict among personal strivings: Immediate and long-term implications for psychological and physical well-being. J. Person. Soc. Psychol. 54: 1040–1048.Google Scholar
  11. Endler, N. S., Cox, B. J., Parker, J. D. A., and Bagby, R. M. (1992). Self-reports of depression and state-trait anxiety: Evidence for differential assessment. J. Person. Soc. Psychol. 63: 832–838.Google Scholar
  12. Glaser, R., Rice, J., Speicher, C. E., Stout, J. C., and Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K. (1986). Stress depresses interferon production by leukocytes concomitant with a decrease in natural killer cell activity. Behav. Neurosci. 100: 675–678.Google Scholar
  13. Heins, M., Fahey, S. M., and Leiden, L. I. (1984). Perceived stress in medical, law, and graduate students. J. Med. Educ. 59: 169–179.Google Scholar
  14. Helweg-Larsen, M., Sadeghian, P., and Webb, M. S. (2001). The stigma of being pessimistically biased. J. Soc. Clin. Psychol. (in press).Google Scholar
  15. Herbert, T. B., and Cohen, S. (1993a). Depression and immunity: A meta-analytic review. Psychol. Bull. 113: 472–486.Google Scholar
  16. Herbert, T. B., and Cohen, S. (1993b). Stress and immunity in humans: A meta-analytic review. Psychosom. Med. 55: 364–379.Google Scholar
  17. House, J. S., Landis, K. R., and Umberson, D. (1988). Social relationships and health. Science 241: 540–545.Google Scholar
  18. Hull, J. G., Tedlie, J. C., and Lehn, D. A. (1992). Moderator variables in personality research: The problem of controlling for plausible alternatives. Person. Soc. Psychol. Bull. 18: 115–117.Google Scholar
  19. Janeway, C. A., and Travers, P. (1997). Immunobiology, 3rd ed., Garland, New York.Google Scholar
  20. Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., and Glaser, R. (1988). Methodological issues in behavioral immunology research with humans. Brain Behav. Immun. 2: 67–78.Google Scholar
  21. Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., and Glaser, R. (1991). Stress and immune function in humans. In Ader, R., Felton, D. L., and Cohen, N. (eds.), Psychoneuroimmunology, 2nd ed., Academic Press, San Diego, CA, pp. 849–867.Google Scholar
  22. LaVia, M. F., Munno, I., Lydiard, R. B., Workman, E. W., Hubbard, J. R., Michel, Y., and Paulling, E. (1996). The influence of stress intrusion on immunodepression in generalized anxiety disorder patients and controls. Psychosom. Med. 58: 138–142.Google Scholar
  23. Litt, M. D., Tennen, H., Affleck, G., and Klock, S. (1992). Coping and cognitive factors in adaptation to in vitro fertilization failure. J. Behav. Med. 15: 171–187.Google Scholar
  24. Marshall, G. N., Wortman, C. B., Kusulas, J. W., Hervig, L. K., and Vickers, R. R. (1992). Distinguishing optimism from pessimism: Relations to fundamental dimensions of mood and personality. J. Person. Soc. Psychol. 62: 1067–1074.Google Scholar
  25. McNair, D. M., Lorr, M., and Droppleman, L. F. (1971). Profile of Mood States, Educational and Industrial Testing Service, San Diego, CA.Google Scholar
  26. Mullen, B., and Suls, J. (1982). The effectiveness of attention and rejection as coping styles: A meta-analysis of temporal differences. J. Psychosom. Res. 26: 43–49.Google Scholar
  27. Naliboff, B. D., Solomon, G. F., Gilmore, S. L., Fahey, J. L., Benton, D., and Pine, J. (1995). Rapid changes in cellular immunity following a confrontational role-play stressor. Brain Behav. Immun. 9: 207–219.Google Scholar
  28. Neter, E., Taylor, S. E., and Kemeny, M. E. (1999).When the future gets worse: Does optimism undermine, sustain, or buffer psychological adjustment during the progression of HIV? (in preparation).Google Scholar
  29. Peirce, R. S., Frone, M. R., Russell, M., Cooper, M. L., and Mudar, P. (2000). A longitudinal model of social contact, social support, depression, and alcohol use. Health Psychol. 19: 28–38.Google Scholar
  30. Pouchot, J., Grasland, A., Collet, C., Coste, J., Esdaile, J. M., and Vinceneux, P. (1997). Reliability of tuberculin skin test measurement. Ann. Intern. Med. 126: 210–214.Google Scholar
  31. Räikkönen, D., Matthews, K. A., Flory, J. D., Owens, J. F., and Gump, B. B. (1999). Effects of optimism, pessimism, and trait anxiety on ambulatory blood pressure and mood during everyday life. J. Person. Soc. Psychol. 76: 104–113.Google Scholar
  32. Reed, G. M., Kemeny, M. E., Taylor, S. E., Wang, H.-Y. J., and Visscher, B. R. (1994). Realistic acceptance as a predictor of decreased survival time in gay men with AIDS. Health Psychol. 13: 299–307.Google Scholar
  33. Rosenthal, R., and Rosnow, R. L. (1984). Essentials of Behavioral Research: Methods and Data Analysis, McGraw-Hill, New York.Google Scholar
  34. Scheier, M. F., and Carver, C. S. (1985). Optimism, coping, and health: Assessment and implications of generalized outcome expectancies. Health Psychol. 4: 219–247.Google Scholar
  35. Scheier, M. F., and Carver, C. S. (1987). Dispositional optimism and physical well-being: The influence of generalized outcome expectancies on health. J. Person. 55: 169–210.Google Scholar
  36. Scheier, M. F., and Carver, C. S. (1992). Effects of optimism on psychological and physical well-being: Theoretical overview and empirical update. Cognit. Ther. Res. 16: 201–228.Google Scholar
  37. Scheier, M. F., Carver, C. S., and Bridges, M. W. (1994). Distinguishing optimism from neuroticism (and trait anxiety, self-mastery, and self-esteem): A reevaluation of the Life Orientation Test. J. Person. Soc. Psychol. 67: 1063–1078.Google Scholar
  38. Seeman, T. E. (1996). Social ties and health: The benefits of social integration. Ann. Epidemiol. 6: 442–451.Google Scholar
  39. Segerstrom, S. C. (1996). Perceptions of stress and control in the first semester of law school. Willamette Law Rev. 32: 593–608.Google Scholar
  40. Segerstrom, S. C. (2000). Personality and the immune system: Models, methods, and mechanisms. Ann. Behav. Med. 22: 180–190.Google Scholar
  41. Segerstrom, S. C., Taylor, S. E., Kemeny, M. E., and Fahey, J. L. (1998). Optimism is associated with mood, coping, and immune change in response to stress. J. Person. Soc. Psychol. 74: 1646–1655.Google Scholar
  42. Sieber, W. J., Rodin, J., Larson, L., Ortega, S., Cummings, N, Levy, S., Whiteside, T., and Herberman, R. (1992). Modulation of human natural killer cell activity by exposure to uncontrollable stress. Brain Behav. Immun. 6: 141–156.Google Scholar
  43. Smith, T. W., Pope, M. K., Rhodewalt, F., and Poulton, J. L. (1989). Optimism, neuroticism, coping, and symptom reports: An alternative interpretation of the Life Orientation Test. J. Person. Soc. Psychol. 56: 640–648.Google Scholar
  44. Sokal, J. E. (1975). Measurement of delayed skin-test responses. N. Engl. J. Med. 293: 501–502.Google Scholar
  45. Spielberger, C. D. (1983). State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (Form Y), Mind Garden, Redwood City, CA.Google Scholar
  46. Stanton, A. L., and Snider, P. R. (1993). Coping with a breast cancer diagnosis: A prospective study. Health Psychol. 12: 16–23.Google Scholar
  47. Stone, A. A. (1995). Measurement of affective response. In Cohen, S., Kessler, R. C., and Gordon, L. U. (eds.), Measuring Stress, Oxford University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  48. Stone, A. A., Cox, D. S., Valdimarsdottir, H., Jandorf, L., and Neale, J. M. (1987). Evidence that secretory IgA antibody is associated with daily mood. J. Person. Soc. Psychol. 52: 988–993.Google Scholar
  49. Stone, A. A., Neale, J. M., Cox, D. S., Napoli, A., Valdimarsdottir, H., and Kennedy-Moore, E. (1994). Daily events are associated with a secretory immune response to an oral antigen in men. Health Psychol. 13: 440–446.Google Scholar
  50. Suls, J., and Fletcher, B. (1985). The relative efficacy of avoidant and nonavoidant coping strategies: A meta-analysis. Health Psychol. 4: 249–288.Google Scholar
  51. Taylor, S. E., and Brown, J. D. (1988). Illusion and well-being: A social psychological perspective on mental health. Psychol. Bull. 103: 193–210.Google Scholar
  52. Uchino, B. N., Cacioppo, J. T., and Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K. (1996). The relationship between social support and physiological processes: A review with emphasis on underlying mechanisms and implications for health. Psychol. Bull. 119: 488–531.Google Scholar
  53. Watson, D., and Clark, L. A. (1984). Negative affectivity: The disposition to experience aversive emotional states. Psychol. Bull. 96: 465–490.Google Scholar
  54. Watson, D., and Pennebaker, J. W. (1989). Health complaints, stress, and distress: Exploring the central role of negative affectivity. Psychol. Rev. 96: 234–254.Google Scholar
  55. Watson, D., and Tellegen, A. (1985). Toward a consensual structure of mood. Psychol. Bull. 98: 219–235.Google Scholar
  56. Watson, D., Clark, L. A., and Tellegen, A. (1988). Development and validation of brief measures of positive and negative affect: The PANAS scales. J. Person. Soc. Psychol. 54: 1063–1070.Google Scholar
  57. Zorrilla, E. P., Redei, E., and DeRubeis, R. J. (1994). Reduced cytokine levels and T-cell function in healthy males: Relation to individual differences in subclinical anxiety. Brain Behav. Immun. 8: 293–312.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Suzanne C. Segerstrom

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations