Despite the social and geopolitical tensions that exist in today’s society, the human race has evolved to a point where multiculturalism and interactivity between different creeds is entirely normal. While there are many inspirational stories concerning those who have battled oppression to practice their beliefs, in general, we live in a tolerant and accepting world.
Interestingly, animals have also evolved over time and become increasingly sociable, particularly in environments where one species is dominant. The same can be said for species’ with high populations such as rats and mice, many of which are often forced to coexist in small, urban spaces.
What recent studies have told us about the evolution of sociability
In instances such as this, however, this heightened level of interaction can increase each animal’s chances of coming into contact with pathogens and infections. Over time, this has driven the need for animals to develop stronger and more capable immune systems, with historical research suggesting that environmental changes were most likely to alter the course of their development.
While this makes perfect sense, a new generation of researchers from the University of Virginia have discovered that the immune system of some species actively controls the elements of their brain that are responsible for social behaviour. This may ultimately change the way that we think about evolution and development, as the rise in sociability may actually have occurred as a direct result of heightened immune systems (rather than the other way around).
How your Personality is controlled by your Immune System
According to the most recent studies, mice that were bred without a specific pathogen-fighting immune molecule became anti-social over time, while also displaying other prominent social defects such as autism. Upon further examination of the subject’s brain activity during testing, it was revealed that particular brain regions in the prefrontal cortex that control social behaviour had become hyperactive, which is similar to the experiences of humans with autism.
Conversely, when these subjects were injected with the missing immune molecule, they immediately behaved in a far healthier manners without displaying any social abnormalities. In purely scientific terms, this increased the levels of a prominent neurotransmitter called GABA, which in turn alleviated the subjects’ hyperactivity and triggered a chance in their social tendencies.
The Last Word
In summary, this fascinating discovery has changed the way that scientists think about the brain and its relationship to the immune system (in the case of both animals and humans). Whereas the brain and the adaptive immune system were once considered to be isolated from one another, it is now apparent that these two entities actually share a close and interactive connection. It is also clear that our immune system has a direct influence on our personality type, and particularly the way in which we socialise and interact with others.
In the long-term, this discovery may also impact on the way in which immune activity in the brain is observed in humans. This was once seen as a clear sign of pathology, but this is no longer the case given the recent findings meaning that diagnostics and treatments could change accordingly.
Featured photo credit: Terry White / Flickr via flickr.com