Emotional repression, stress disclosure responses, and Epstein-Barr viral capsid antigen titers

B. A. Esterling, M. H. Antoni, M. Kumar, N. Schneiderman

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146 Scopus citations


Based on the theory of psychosomatic inhibition, we hypothesized that subjects who abstained from disclosing emotional material on a labortory task would have poorer control of latent Epstein-Barr virus (as evidenced by high titers for the viral capsid antigen), and similarly, those subjects with psychometrically derived repressive interpersonal styles would show the highest Epstein-Barr viral capsid antigen titers (EBV-VCA). Eighty first-year undergraduates completed a personality inventory and were asked to write an essay/letter for 30 minutes about a stressful event that had happened in their life. Blood was collected from each subject immediately after writing. Essays were scored for degree of emotional disclosure according to the ratio of emotional-to-total words used. Degree of disclosure was found to be associated with impaired control of latent EBV (high antibody titers to the EBV-VCA) controlling for medication use, recent sleep loss, physical activity, lean body mass, caloric intake, and alcohol and recreational drug use. Further, individual differences in interpersonal style (characterized by emotional suppression) related to this immunologic marker in a similar fashion, and these two factors interacted in determining EBV-VCA titers. That is, Repressors who were either high or low disclosers had high levels of antibody titer to EBV-VCA, whereas only those Sensitizers who did not disclose had high antibody titers to EBV-VCA. In addition to supporting the hypothesis that emotional repression is associated with some aspects of host-virus interaction, the present findings highlight the importance of obtaining behavioral and psychometric assessments in psychoimmunologic investigations of this abstract affective construct (i.e., repression).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)397-410
Number of pages14
JournalPsychosomatic medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 1 1990

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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