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Horm Behav. 2017 Feb;88:52-59. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2016.09.008. Epub 2016 Sep 22.

Why are behavioral and immune traits linked?

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Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, University of Zurich, Winterthurerstrasse 190, 8057 Zurich, Switzerland. Electronic address:


Through behavior, animals interact with a world where parasites abound. It is easy to understand how behavioral traits can thus have a differential effect on pathogen exposure. Harder to understand is why we observe behavioral traits to be linked to immune defense traits. Is variation in immune traits a consequence of behavior-induced variation in immunological experiences? Or is variation in behavioral traits a function of immune capabilities? Is our immune system a much bigger driver of personality than anticipated? In this review, I provide examples of how behavioral and immune traits co-vary. I then explore the different routes linking behavioral and immune traits, emphasizing on the physiological/hormonal mechanisms that could lead to immune control of behavior. Finally, I discuss why we should aim at understanding more about the mechanisms connecting these phenotypic traits.


Behavioral syndromes; Coping styles; Cytokines; Early life experiences; Maternal antibodies; Microbiota; Parental investment; Personality; Physiology

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