Self-Disclosure, Social Support and Asthma

Social factors may relate to anti-inflammatory gene expression.

Posted Dec 26, 2018

In the interest of full disclosure, I have asthma. I could also eat like nine bananas at a given time  and still be like, "Man those are delicious." It's good to have that off my chest.

Now, when it comes to physical health, people's first instinct might not be to relate these issues to things like social support, self-disclosure to other people, or really anything that has to do entirely with social factors. But, there is loads of research showing that social relationships and support are related to better physical health (see here for instance). The same goes for social support and positive mood (see here).

Recent research headed by psychologists at Wayne State University tested how self-disclosure (revealing information about yourself to others) relates to the expression of the gene NR3C1. This gene, and I will have to take the authors' words for it, has an anti-inflammatory property. Asthma, for those who aren't steeped in medical knowledge, or who didn't spend their entire lives with semi-functioning lungs, is an inflammation of the lungs that reduces airflow. So, knowing how and to what extent genes express themselves that are related to inflammation is important potentially to understanding asthma and the experience of asthmatic people. 

This research found that the levels of self-disclosure that teenagers with asthma did not necessarily relate to the amount of activity in the NR3C1 gene. But it did for people who felt like their self-disclosure was being listened to and understood by the people in their lives (probably friends and family, possibly also a person they met on the bus or a really friendly Wal-Mart greeter).

Now, as a social psychologist and a person with asthma (who loves bananas) I find these results fascinating. While they are correlational and cannot show that social variables cause particular outcomes, they raise the possibility that asthma, to some extent, might be improved even the tiniest bit by being listened to and valued by others when you disclose personal information. I mean, that's pretty cool stuff. 

I think the least you all could do for me now is to listen to my self-disclosures and make me feel appreciated and listened to. I accept banana care packages.

References

Imami, L., Stanton, S. C., Zilioli, S., Tobin, E. T., Farrell, A. K., Luca, F., & Slatcher, R. B. (2018). Self-Disclosure and Perceived Responsiveness Among Youth With Asthma: Links to Affect and Anti-Inflammatory Gene Expression. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 0146167218808497.