Quantitative Psychological Theory and Musings

Monday, March 15, 2010

No Allergies or Immunity to Learning

audio/visual version
This post can be considered an extension of my last one on learned tolerance to addictive substances. 

Like reactions to addictive substances, allergic and immune responses are influenced by external environments and mental states.  Both can be learned and forgotten, depending on the contexts.  I lump them together here, because they are actually both functions of the immune system.

Both types of responses can be triggered by external environments and mental states that are similar to those in which allergens(former) or pathogens(for example, latter) were previously encountered.  Likewise, learned responses can fail to occur in environments and or mental states that are subjectively dissimilar.  So, when it comes to the acquisition and extinction(unlearning) of allergies and specific immune responses, all of the principles of learning apply.

One implication is that exposure treatments, involving the gradual presentation of contexts(stimuli) previously experienced with an allergen or pathogen, sans those threats, should sometimes diminish learned allergic and immune responses.  This is similar to systematic desensitization treatments used to treat phobias and more general anxiety disorders.  Perhaps this approach can also apply to treatment for some cases of autoimmune disorders.

So, this is just another example of how psychology can touch upon elements of the functioning of our bodies in what may be unexpected ways for many.


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