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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.
    • Cheap shot for funny:Maybe they're just happy they haven't got a cold.

      Happy->less run-down->less prone to lurgies. Such chains are well understood.

    • 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.

      • by Mr2cents (323101)
        That's not the whole story. There IS a connection between mental state and sickness. This isn't new; the immune system's strength can be measured by counting the white blood cells. It turns out that people who are depressed or stressed have less of them. Being unemployed also has a negative effect.

        The immune system is incredibly complex, an parts of it are regulated through the brain. So it shouldn't be surprising that your mood can influence it. Another example: if you look at statistics of people's deaths
    • Maybe people that aren't sick are happier?
    • by Jugalator (259273)
      Not really; there's an actual scientific study involved here. Otherwise it would hardly be news.
      • by Jugalator (259273)
        And this study also seemed to support his earlier results with higher levels of the cold fighting substance interleukin-6 in the people that were artificially infected with cold.
  • by yagu (721525) * <yayaguNO@SPAMgmail.com> 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.)

    • by troll -1 (956834)
      Exactly.

      There's also a correlation between milk consumption and crime. The two, of course, are related to rise in population and cutting milk consumption will not prevent crime. Here we could ask: Can a weak immune system cause a negative mood?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Mr. Slippery (47854)

        The two, of course, are related to rise in population and cutting milk consumption will not prevent crime.

        Actually, Alexander Schauss [nih.gov]'s research on the diets of juvenile criminals found that delinquents drank excessive amounts of milk, crowding frutis and vegetables out of the diet; and substituting orange juice or water resulted in a decrease in antisocial behavior. (Unfortunately I don't have a link; it's work from the 1980s, mentioned in passing in one of my dead trees books: "The Healing Arts", Kapt

    • I do note the phrase 'reported fewer symptoms' in there. Which has the interesting idea that the subjects themselves counted how sick they got. Want to bet an optimist doesn't count a couple of coughs while a pessimist does?
    • That's the first, and probbably most glaring problem with this study. The second is that according t o the article the cold symptoms were self-reported. How do we know that people with "positive" emotions aren't just more willing to ignore any symptoms they have, or rate them lower? In other words attitude might affect how people interpret, or report symptoms.

      I'd have been more impressed if the researchers had chosen an objective method of measuring symptoms rather than a subjective one.
      • by Dunbal (464142)
        The second is that according t o the article the cold symptoms were self-reported.

        If you had actually READ the article, you would have seen THIS bit:

        "Each person was quarantined in a separate room and monitored for 5 or 6 days."

        Now, how do you equate "self reported" with "monitored"?

        Mood has a great deal to do with morbidity. Physicians have known for YEARS that the mortality and morbidity rate for an individual will sky

        • Each person was quarantined in a separate room and monitored for 5 or 6 days.

          Monitored for what? The article doesn't say. However it DOES say this:

          Unlike the negatively inclined participants, they reported fewer cold symptoms than were detected in medical exams.

          So the only result was that the people with "positive" outlooks reported less than were actually detected. Isn't that exactly what I said might be a problem with this study?

          Mood has a great deal to do with morbidity. Physicians have known for YEAR
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by shawb (16347)
            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 ne
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        The symptoms were self reported according to the article summary, the article itself however says:

        Each person was quarantined in a separate room and monitored for 5 or 6 days. 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, 14 of 50 (28 percent) who often reported positive emotions developed coughs, congestion, and other cold symptoms, as compared with 23 of 56 infected individuals (41 percent) who rarely reported positive emotions.

        I do agree with the GP though. I know some people with chronic diseases and they are significantly less happy than the average person. I doubt that's a coincidence.

        • by Vellmont (569020)
          The article also says the following:

          Unlike the negatively inclined participants, they reported fewer cold symptoms than were detected in medical exams.


          So what's going on here? It's pretty impossible to say from the article itself. You'd need to read the actual paper.
    • by MrFlibbs (945469) on Tuesday December 19, 2006 @04:48PM (#17304590)
      This reminds me of another study to determine the relationship between height and basketball. Subjects were sorted into two groups: those who played basketball and those who did not. The basketball-playing group was, on the average, several inches taller. The conclusion? Playing basketball makes you taller!

      Correlation does not imply causation.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by naddington (852722)
        > Correlation does not imply causation.

        No, but correlation is correlated to causation...
      • by Cheapy (809643)
        But does being taller make you more likely to play basketball?
      • I was in a good mood, and not feeling sick in that my username was more or less unique. I was amongst the happy non-sick people.

        Not anymore.

        I guess you could say that you make me sick!

        (Yes, I am joking)
    • 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.
    • 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: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by silentounce (1004459)
        "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
      • You are absolutely right. While the grandparent is correct in his saying that corelation does not imply causation, the scientists who did the study never said that this corelation implied a causation. The study reads very plainly that they found a corelation between mood and cold symptoms. That's pretty much all they said. The questions brought up by the grandparent and some of the replies to it are probably the same questions these scientists are asking and would probably like to do further study to fi
    • Statistically, you do have a valid point. But, the researchers may be onto something. I mean how many happy psychosomantic people do you know? It's like the old joke: What is the worst thing you can say to a pyschosomantic? You look great!
    • by yali (209015)

      Here's a link to the journal abstract [psychosoma...dicine.org].

      Although the study was not as inferentially strong as a randomized experiment, it was a prospective design with a number of statistical controls -- so it's a lot better than the ice cream/drowning correlation. Controls included pre-existing antibodies to the virus as well as self-reported health (which researchers usually consider [wkhealth.com] a useful but imperfect proxy for other indicators).

      Also, with regard to someone else's comment, they quarantined subjects and measured for

    • I dunno, my ex showed up at my company Christmas party with her new boyfriend, and the next day I got a cold.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Quoth the abstract:

      For both viruses, increased PES was associated with lower risk of developing an upper respiratory illness as defined by objective criteria (adjusted odds ratio comparing lowest with highest tertile = 2.9) and with reporting fewer symptoms than expected from concurrent objective markers of illness. These associations were independent of prechallenge virus-specific antibody, virus type, age, sex, education, race, body mass, season, and NES. They were also independent of optimism, extraversi

    • by ShakaUVM (157947)
      . It simply reports positive feelings and emotions are closely correlated to resistance to acquiring or displaying symptoms from influenza (rhinovirus).

      Influenza != Rhinovirus. Rhinovirus (family Picornaviridae) is the common cold, not the flu (which is Orthomyxoviridae).
    • by StikyPad (445176)
      Or maybe they're just happier because they rarely get sick!
  • Every morning since I started drinking regularly ... but at the same time, I haven't had a cold since then either.
    • by Dunbal (464142)
      Every morning since I started drinking regularly ... but at the same time, I haven't had a cold since then either.

            Well considering that most of the inflammatory substances that cause cold symptoms are produced or metabolized by the liver at some point, perhaps the real problem is that your liver is already shot? :P
  • Maybe people with a bad attitude have it because of their tendancy in the past to have greater symptoms of disease. Unless w can randomize positive and negative 'attitude' to people, we'll never know for sure.
  • That's what's called "psychology" and "power of the mind"
  • by 10100111001 (931992) on Tuesday December 19, 2006 @04:35PM (#17304370)
    Laughter is the best medicine... so bring out the nitrous!
  • I love the autumn season. So around september or october, I'm such in a good mood that I forget about my fear of needles and go to the pharmacy to get the year's flu shot. And get what? I never get the flu!
  • 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 flynt (248848)
    Read The Fine Summary Editors:

    Editor: A new scientific study suggests that people who frequently experience positive emotions are less likely to catch colds.

    Summary: Although a positive emotional style bore no relation to whether participants became infected...

    This is why 'literate' people often score so poorly on literacy tests. They can read a five-line summary of something and believe the exact opposite of the conclusion.

    • The findings of the study states the exact opposite of the headline and the link to the article. But I supose the current headline does have a certain...'truthiness' to it that will help drive up click throughs.

      -Rick
    • by Otter (3800)
      In fairness, it depends on whether you define "catch colds" as undergoing infection or developing symptoms. If the infection is unnoticeable to the patient, is that a "cold"?
    • by duguk (589689)
      As the editor posting this, I do apoligise most humbly, but I did steal the whole story from Boingboing, and I'm openly admit to that.

      Sorry for misleading you.

      DugUK
      • by ajs (35943)
        I don't see it as misleading. If anything, the study itself is the one that's misleading. When the layman says "catch a cold", we don't mean that you have X ppm viral load, we mean that you have a runny nose, cough, etc. The study says that everyone had the virus (it was deliberately introduced), but some developed (or at least reported developing) symptoms. The latter category is what we would generally call "catching a cold," so the subject is correct.

        It can sometimes be difficult to translate medicalese
    • by Jugalator (259273)
      The article merely claims that the while initial impact of the actual infection from their artificial nasal drops wasn't affected much by positive people, the rest was, such as their recoveries. While the Slashdot summary could perhaps be reworded as e.g. "less likely to keep having a cold" to stay more "truthful", I don't think there's much of a problem here.
  • Or maybe people with a good out look on life just don't whine and complain as much. Maybe to happy people a little sniffle isn't as noticable as someone who is always complaining about things. It's like those people who look outside, see 2 flakes of snow and call into work saying they can't come in because it's snowing. "Oh, so your taking a vacation day??" OK, I'll be in on time. Sigh.
  • Bananas (Score:5, Funny)

    by dunsurfin (570404) on Tuesday December 19, 2006 @04:46PM (#17304548)
    I eat bananas on a regular basis and have noticed that this keeps rogue alligators away from me. The victims of rogue alligator attacks never have bananas on their person. I strongly advise those who are worried about rogue attack from alligators to eat bananas.
    • by StikyPad (445176)
      We don't get many rogue alligators around these parts.. mostly just the shamans, and believe me, bananas do NOT deter an angry alligator shaman. Just you go ahead and try to restore 243 points over 21 seconds with that banana, and we'll see who's laughing and who's dead.
  • I'm a lot happier when my apartment is cleaned up. The dust bunnies are killed behind the computers. The dirty dishes are washed and put away. The "it's weird and pissed off" thing is gone from the bathroom. The living room is picked up and the game console put away. The bedsheets are fresh from the laundry. All I need is a magical girl to move in to complete my happiness. :P
    • I'm the same way and have the same problem.

      Turns out that keeping a tidy place, standing up straight, speaking with big words, and having a taste for fine scotch and wine before the age of forty are all indicators to the opposite sex that you're a homosexual.

      I tend to have much better luck picking up ladies when I'm unshaven and unwashed, hunched over a bar drinking a cheap beer on a sunday night. Something about a sink full of dirty dishes and dirty clothes in a pile on the floor says 'real man' to the lad
      • by Woldry (928749)
        I have the opposite problem. I'm openly gay, but nobody seems to notice. I'm an inveterate pack rat and an incorrigible slob. My house is a disaster area (you don't want to know how long it's been since I knew where the vacuum cleaner was), my attire is rumpled no matter how hard I try to look natty, and I often have to be reminded how long it's been since I shaved. My desk at work wins the "CLEAN IT UP" award year after year at performance evaluations. I have no discriminating taste for wine (I like i
  • Time to start the injections of the happy drug!
  • Maxim had an interesting article that semen, when absorbed through the vagina, helped keep women from being depressed. So if sex helps women be happy, and happiness prevents colds, that shot of penis-cillin really is helpful!

    Too bad it won't work in a pick-up line.
  • ..I'm just too cool for a cold.
  • by inode_buddha (576844) on Tuesday December 19, 2006 @05:04PM (#17304858) Journal
    Wonder what would happen if they did a study like this about STD's? "I felt great and I caught it anyway!!! AAUUUGH!"
  • Human subjects? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by cmason (53054)
    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)?

    -c

  • by Osiris Ani (230116) on Tuesday December 19, 2006 @05:17PM (#17305082)
    People who tend to express more negative emotions are typically more emotionally stressed. Chronic excessive emotional stress has been quite well known to be physically debilitating, as it generally weakens the immune system. Beyond that, the link between depression and immunodeficiency is hardly a new one; its causation actually swings in both directions.
  • In my experience, the number of people I'm exposed to while in a good mood is far greater than it is when I'm not in a good mood. Statistically, it seems like happier people should be far more likely to get sick.

    Perhaps this may be dictated more by *who* we're exposed to depending on our mood, rather than by our mood itself.

    For example, a happy person is probably more likely to go to a random place for entertain among others upon impulse, while unhappy people may be more likely to either be around one or tw
  • by michaelmalak (91262) <michael@michaelmalak.com> on Tuesday December 19, 2006 @05:25PM (#17305264) Homepage
    Among the effects of sunlight on people are 1) it produces Vitamin D, and 2) it produces serotonin. It's been recently rediscovered that Vitamin D prevents colds and flus. Thus sunlight puts us in a better mood and prevents flus and colds. We get more colds and flus (and depressed) in the winter because there is less sunlight.

    Moods and flu prevention form a mere correlation from the common cause of sunlight.

  • That's how I read it, dyslectic flare up. All normal now. How are you?
  • Maybe people with "generally positive outlooks" are more likely to have gotten flu shots. I wonder if they asked about that.
  • Seriously- your mood is a reflection of your internal chemical state.

    There are long term studies that show people's basic moods do not change.

    In my case, everything went to hell about 18 months ago after a lifetime of being very easy going.

    All the sudden, I was anxious, irritable, had night sweats, couldn't think straight, was sleeping 9+ hours and still tired, had low sex drive, my reaction speed in sports sucked, and I was getting sick after years of not getting sick. My mood sucked!

    After a comprehensive
  • then you are more likely to overlook sniffles and a cough my 2E-2 cents
  • Apparently the guy who wanted the proof never got a nervous cold himself. I have.

    Coming back from getting my motorcycle driver's license, I sneezed all the way from the instructor's to the town house (where I got my license), which is a good ride through the city.

    I was already suffering from nervous colds back then. My fellow employees expected the daily sneeze around 3 pm.

    It's a dumb thing, really. But it's there. Sneezing to break the nervous tension. And it feels lame :-)
  • Well, that would probably be why I have a really bad cold right now, and have for the last 3 days. You f*ckers. (j/k)

  • . . . people who catch fewer colds generally have a more positive outlook?
  • Jack Handy (Score:4, Informative)

    by Talisman (39902) on Tuesday December 19, 2006 @06:32PM (#17306260) Homepage
    My father always said that laughter was the best medicine, which is why so many of us died of tuberculosis.

  • I've always wondered if there was something to this. We may not be able to quantify it scientifically, but I wonder if some endorphin mumbo-jumbo does boost the immune system when you feel good about life. That's what I always think when I hear about those "prayer cures" studies. I really doubt that God cares all that deeply about your sniffles (since kids are dying in house fires and leukemia, etc) but feeling good about something or other might make you feel better.

    Or perhaps people just put a lowe

  • 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.
  • Then why are so many diseases sexually transmitted?
  • I've noticed this firsthand, for almost 20 years I worked on the road where I would meet many people, I was outside most of the time during the year all by myself, any contact with the company or co-workers was by phone. I would get many colds, sometimes back-to-back which I thought was unusual but I hated my job and going to work everyday I thought it was normal for me to catch a cold or two, or more, every year - or so I thought.

    I'm now inside doing a similar job but I work with about two hundred
  • Who cares about the flu? What the world needs is experimental proof that a really good screw can prevent AIDS.
  • "happy people" will complain less about the symptoms they have.

    "unhappy people" will complain more.

    Fucking obvious.

    sheesh.
  • I'm a miserable whinging prick and I never get colds.
  • Am I miserable because I am sick, or am I sick because I am miserable?

For every bloke who makes his mark, there's half a dozen waiting to rub it out. -- Andy Capp

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