Networks, cultures, and institutions: Toward a social immunology
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This paper calls for increased attention to the ways in which immune function – including its behavioral aspects – are responsive to social contexts at multiple levels. Psychoneuroimmunology has demonstrated that the quantity and quality of social connections can affect immune responses, while newer research is finding that sickness temporarily affects these same social networks and that some aspects of culture can potentially “get under the skin” to affect inflammatory responses. Social immunology, the research framework proposed here, unifies these findings and also considers the effects of structural factors – that is, a society's economic, political, and environmental landscape – on exposure to pathogens and subsequent immune responses. As the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted, a holistic understanding of the effects of social contexts on the patterning of morbidity and mortality is critically important. Social immunology provides such a framework and can highlight important risk factors related to impaired immune function.
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