Psychologist John Capitanio and colleagues found that in monkeys with an AIDS-like illness, those allowed to form stable social relationships lived longer than those whose social groups continually changed.
The findings have important implications for people with AIDS, Capitanio said.
"Around the world, people with AIDS can experience substantial social stress from a variety of sources," he said. "Many are shunned by friends and family, discriminated against in the areas of insurance, jobs and housing, and even physically attacked. Many also experience the deaths of partners and close friends.
"Our data provide strong evidence that such stresses can have an impact on the course of the disease itself."
The new study appears in the April 14 issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It was inspired in 1991, when Capitanio and a UC Davis colleague, Nicholas Lerche, reviewed post-mortem records of rhesus macaque monkeys infected with simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) in several monkey colonies in the United States.
They discovered that the monkeys that had been separated from familiar companions died earlier than those that had not.
Intrigued, Capitanio began a prospective study to examine the physical effects of social stress in monkeys with SIV. Working with him were Lerche and UC Davis psychologists Sally Mendoza and William Mason.
Eighteen healthy, male, young-adult rhesus macaques were
infected with SIV. Then all the monkeys were given frequent,
equal periods of social contact with other monkeys. However,
while half of the animals were always grouped with the same
individuals, in "stable" associations, the oth
Contact: John Capitanio
University of California - Davis