Cognitive Word Use During Marital Conflict and Increases in Proinflammatory Cytokines

Jennifer E. Graham, Ronald Glaser, Timothy J. Loving, William B. Malarkey, Jeffrey R. Stowell, Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Objective: To examine whether greater cognitive engagement during a marital conflict discussion, as evidenced by use of words that suggest thinking and meaning-making, results in attenuated proinflammatory cytokine increases to stress and wounding. Design: Husbands and wives (N = 84 individuals) were observed during two separate 24-hr visits: each visit included a wounding procedure, which was followed by a nonconflictive marital discussion (first visit) and a conflictive marital discussion (second visit). Main Outcome Measures: Serum proinflammatory cytokines interleukin-6 (IL-6) and tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α). Results: Individuals who used more cognitive processing words during the conflict discussion (but not the nonconflictive discussion) showed smaller increases in serum IL-6 and TNF-α over 24 hours; they also had lower levels of both cytokines 24 hours after baseline controlling for demographics, hostility, depressed mood, positive and negative interactions, and marital quality. Effects of word use were not mediated by ruminative thoughts after conflict. Although both men and women benefited from their own cognitive engagement, only husbands' IL-6 patterns were affected by spouses' engagement. Conclusion: In accord with research demonstrating the value of cognitive processing in emotional disclosure, this research suggests that productive communication patterns may help mitigate the adverse effects of relationship conflict on inflammatory dysregulation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)621-630
Number of pages10
JournalHealth Psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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