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Christmas Cheer Science

Evidence That Good Moods Prevent Colds 200

Posted by kdawson
from the don't-worry-be-happy dept.
duguk writes in with another reason to keep happy over Christmas. A new scientific study suggests that people who frequently experience positive emotions are less likely to catch colds. Psychologist Sheldon Cohen and his colleagues at Carnegie Mellon University interviewed 193 healthy adults daily for two weeks and recorded the positive and negative emotions they had experienced each day. The researchers then exposed the volunteers to a cold or a flu virus. Those with "generally positive outlooks" reported fewer cold symptoms. From the article: "'We need to take more seriously the possibility that a positive emotional style is a major player in disease risk,' Cohen says... Although a positive emotional style bore no relation to whether participants became infected, it protected against the emergence of cold symptoms. For instance, among people infected by the influenza virus... 28 percent who often reported positive emotions developed coughs, congestion, and other cold symptoms, as compared with... 41 percent who rarely reported positive emotions."
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Evidence That Good Moods Prevent Colds

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  • Maybe (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 19, 2006 @04:32PM (#17304306)
    Maybe happy people just don't complain as much.
  • by yagu (721525) * <> on Tuesday December 19, 2006 @04:32PM (#17304310) Journal

    It's an interesting correlation, but the article/study doesn't give a convincing argument "positive" feelings can prevent illness. It simply reports positive feelings and emotions are closely correlated to resistance to acquiring or displaying symptoms from influenza (rhinovirus).

    I don't discount a positive attitude is a good thing to have, but a more rigorous approach could have given better or more convincing results. For example, is it possible some people have a less positive outlook or less positive emotions because they have a less effective immune system and therefor are more often ill (thus introducing a possible reason for the less positive emotions)?

    Relatedly, is it possible those with positive outlooks and emotions are just that because they have a strong immune system and are rarely ill?

    I'd be interested in seeing a study where some of the "negative" subjects were trained in positive emotions and reintroduced to the study to see if their results are different. I'd like to guess positive feelings positively influences their health, but this study doesn't give that proof.

    (My favorite example of this kind of "study" is the correlation between increased sales of ice cream and drownings, leading some to possibly think ice cream increases drowning risk... of course ignoring the fact that ice cream sales increase in warmer weather when more people are swimming.)

  • Chicken/egg. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Elentari (1037226) on Tuesday December 19, 2006 @04:36PM (#17304382) Journal
    I generally don't feel positive when I have a cold.
  • by nullkill (835502) on Tuesday December 19, 2006 @04:40PM (#17304440) Homepage
    Talk about kicking someone when they're down.
  • by arivanov (12034) on Tuesday December 19, 2006 @04:49PM (#17304614) Homepage
    Well... It may the underlying reasons for the good moods, not the good moods themselves.

    I noted that my colds have a nearly perfect correlation with the level of tiredness. I used to catch an average of more than one cold a month during the winter in the days when I overworked myself, worked extra hours for a prolonged period without compensating with a day off here or there, took work home and otherwise followed the antisocial behaviour pattern loved by slaver PHBs.

    Nowdays, I stay strictly within the "green" zone of sub-40h per week at work and do not overdo the recreational coding. As a result I have less than one cold per 4-6 months. I have observed the same correlation in other people.

    Unfortunately many PHBs do not grok the phenomenon. They would rather have their staff staring at the monitor at the height of lemsim stupor while checking in ephedrin driven code that has to be thrown out later anyway. Even the fact that the average productivity in the industry in Europe is in nearly perfect inverse proportion to the overtime put in does not make them stop and think for a second.
  • Re:Bah (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ShieldW0lf (601553) on Tuesday December 19, 2006 @04:50PM (#17304638) Journal
    I'm not going to dig into the co-relation/causality side of things, I know it will be done to death because it's the obvious dig.

    But having read down the forum posts a bit, I wonder:

    Why is curing sickness so important, but the idea of curing sadness gets such scorn?
  • by LionKimbro (200000) on Tuesday December 19, 2006 @04:54PM (#17304710) Homepage
    You're asking for more rigor, and scare-quoting this "study."

    I'm asking, "Why so skeptical?"

    When you read the article, you see that the people performing the study are well aware that this is only "pointing at" possibilities, not definitively saying, "This is true."

    You're requesting more rigor, and I don't think they'd disagree with you. They performed a study. They're looking at the results. The questions that come out of this study will inspire further study.

    The article portrays a picture of ambiguity. Sounds about right.

    This is not a "study," this is a study proper. Studies do not demand the churning out of new Laws. Its sufficient to frame an experiment, say, "Well, I think it's X; It warrants a further look," and then tell people that.
  • Re:Maybe (Score:5, Insightful)

    by danpsmith (922127) on Tuesday December 19, 2006 @05:05PM (#17304870)
    Maybe happy people just don't complain as much.

    Important point, my grandmother, as my mother would say, would never bleed, she'd hemorrhage, she'd never get a papercut, it would be a laceration. Frame of mind has a lot to do with how you designate what's wrong with you.

    I personally hardly notice or care when most colds come or go because I don't dwell on them. There's people who seem to be always sick, just because they can always find some symptom to complain about. Happy people could've just not even noticed their symptoms, because they aren't in a "woe is me" frame of mind.

    People looking for a tragedy in their own lives always find one.

  • Human subjects? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by cmason (53054) on Tuesday December 19, 2006 @05:07PM (#17304894) Homepage
    The researchers then exposed the volunteers to a cold or a flu virus.

    How the hell did they get that past IRB (Institutional Review Board)?


  • by silentounce (1004459) on Tuesday December 19, 2006 @05:08PM (#17304910) Homepage
    "When you read the article, you see that the people performing the study are well aware that this is only 'pointing at' possibilities, not definitively saying, 'This is true.'"
    Then what's the damn point? Why not do a study that does more than "point" to begin with? The study does not give reliable results. All it says is that there is a correlation. That doesn't prove that it merits more study or not. As in the examples given above, anything can correlate. Doing a study to prove such is a waste of time. They should have had better hypotheses and testing methods to begin with. Bleh, I'm tired and can't explain my thought very well. Here comes a -1 mod, heh. Could someone more coherent explain what I'm trying to say?
  • by Jugalator (259273) on Tuesday December 19, 2006 @06:35PM (#17306294) Journal
    I agree, I don't see how so many here try to make it something 100% subjective when it clearly isn't. As I've said above (a bit shorter, because I thought it was obvious until I had read so many comments claiming otherwise) -- this is a scientific research using scientific methods, and the findings are further strengthened by the heightened interleukin-6 rates found earlier.

    The phone stuff here was merely made during the pre-study phase to find out their emotional patterns for the scientists to know who the heck were optimist/pessimists in the first place! I can see it being questions like "how was your day", "what were your happiest moment in the past week/month/year", "how often do you have truly genuine fun", and so on. Then those 193 people were quarantined in their respective, isolated, rooms and studied for 5-6 days. Scientists then kept check on their cold symptoms they all shared through artificial infection with an influenza virus.

    Anyway, I can also not see the illogical about this from a purely scientific perspective. I can definitely see nature having evolved a way to "reward" some optimist organisms, humans or otherwise, because of the correlation with living a successful life. This isn't exactly the first time I hear studies, yes, actual studies, not some phone calls, coming to a conclusion like this. It seems most simply have a problem connecting psychology with physiology, but then I hope it's not coming as a surprise that from a scientific standpoint, psychology is highly physiologic and clearly connected via chemical signals and substances in the brain. Why can't the brain and body act positively to certain psychological reactions? It only makes sense to me. Laughter alone is already documented to release endorphines, and laughter has its foundation in psychology. Psychology isn't exactly some totally different magic wand waving voodoo that only a nutcase would find related to our bodies... :-p

    But this is perhaps all due to something unscientific I've noticed in geek communities, in that many have a cynical and pessimist outlook on life, whether it is laws, science, psychology, or other things. One can basically know what the replies will be to a story like this regardless what it'll tell without looking at the actual replies. Sometimes I wonder if it's because "we" are so smart to spot the bad things, or if it's just us being overly negative in nature about certain things that it does more harm than good, possibly giving rise to the common and real "social handicaps" people this group is so often generalized to.
  • by qromodyn (741144) on Tuesday December 19, 2006 @07:21PM (#17306898)
    They only asked 100 people. In the two groups, they had 50 people. The numbers are 14 and 23. If you assume Poisson statistics, the error bars are about 4-5. These numbers are statistically consistent with no difference whatsoever. And as someone else said, the actual study showed no difference between infection rates, only in reported symptoms.
  • by shawb (16347) on Tuesday December 19, 2006 @08:15PM (#17307476)
    A bigger problem is that we are basing all of this conversation on an article about a study, rather than the paper itself. If you have ever been involved with anything involving the press, you would probably be a lot less doubtful of the researchers methods assuming that the reporter simply flubbed some details and completely made up some lines. I'm not saying ALL reporters are bad, but I have personally been witness to a number of events (Less than ten, more than five?) that I later read reports of in newspapers, saw television news spots, etc. Every single one of them had glaring errors. Often a small number of news sources would be pretty much spot on, but then others would have details that are simply apocryphal, or miss the whole point completely.

A committee is a group that keeps the minutes and loses hours. -- Milton Berle