Bullying might cause changes in the immune system, leaving body on the doorstep of infections and diseases. A research conducted on monkeys says that those who get shunted to the bottom of social pecking are most likely to experience genetic changes, eventually succumbing to maladies.
Duke University researchers, led by author Jenny Tung, were interested in physical impact of social stress induced on monkeys. Research panel examined rhesus macaques, observing change in species on introduction to a new group. With lowest status in new group, specie indicated stress, because of which capability of immune system fell significantly. Researchers believe that these findings can also be applied to humans.
Tung explained research findings by stating, “We were able to find that with changes in social environment, you see the gene-expression pattern seems to change with it. If you can improve your social environment, then that gene signature seems to go away too.”
“There's no direct parallel for macaque dominance ranks in humans, but we know that the social stress imposed by dominance ranks seems to have similar physiological effects as socioeconomic status or job ranks at work”, added Tung.
49 female rhesus macaque monkeys were introduced to unfamiliar social environments, where they indicated different levels of social stress. A group of five monkeys each was created in order to determine their social status. Monkey placed earliest in the group had the highest social rank, whereas last monkey to enter the group had lowest social rank. The newcomer was the one having most significant difference in gene expression.
Microarrays were used to scan genes and determine expression levels in order to detect macaques’ immune cells. Differences were observed in genes associated with immune system and inflammation, most expressive in lowest-ranked subjects.
Earlier, studies have also found lower status macaques with high level of inflammation, a clear indication of stress. In this manner, a specific pattern of immune system activity was observed in monkeys belonging to different social ranks.