Mind & Body

Your Brain Makes You Extra Antisocial When You're Sick

Being sick gives you an amazing excuse to cozy up on the couch and burn through four seasons of "RuPaul's Drag Race" in a single sitting. No shame. Your preference for shutting out the rest of the world while you're under the weather isn't just your imagination, either. When you're feeling sick and antisocial, blame your brain.

Leave Me Alone!

It's hard to get out of the house when you're sick, but that's not just because you're not feeling strong enough to put pants on. You're getting subconscious signals from your brain to ignore people at all costs. Because your immune system is connected to your brain, it may, in fact, influence your social behavior.

The vagus nerve is the connector; it's a network of fibers that connects parts of your body like your gut and lymph nodes. This nerve can detect cytokines, which are compounds your immune system shoots out when you're battling an illness. Your brain gets word of the illness through the nerve, and before you know it, you're glued to the couch.

Researchers speculate there are two main reasons your brain puts this homely spell on you. It's an evolutionary adaptation to keep you and the people around you healthy. If you stay inside when you're sick, you're much less likely to spread your illness around to other people. That wouldn't be beneficial for the survival of our species, right? Holing up at home also gives your body the time to fight the infection and bounce back.

Flip It and Reverse It

Before you go blaming your immune system on your antisocial-ness, it can work in the total opposite way, too. If your health is firing on all cylinders, your brain may nudge you toward being extra extroverted. In a 2010 study, participants were given a flu shot. In the 48 hours following receiving the flu shot, participants "interacted with significantly more people, and in significantly larger groups."

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Learn more complexities of the immune system in "Elegant Defense, An: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System: A Tale in Four Lives" by Matt Richtel. The audiobook is free with an Audible trial. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Joanie Faletto November 17, 2017

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