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Emotional Style and Susceptibility to the Common Cold

Sheldon Cohen
Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh
William J. Doyle
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
Ronald B. Turner
Medical university of South Carolina
Cuneyt M. Alper
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
David P. Skoner
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

Published in 'Psychosomatic Medicine', 65, 652-657, 2003

It has been suggested that people who typically report positive emotions are at less risk for contracting certain illnesses compared to those who frequently report negative emotions.  This study tested the hypothesis for resistance to the common cold.  
334 healthy volunteers (female = 175; male = 159), aged 18 to 54 years, were assessed for their tendency to experience positive emotions such as happy, pleased, cheerful, energetic, lively, and relaxed; and for negative emotions such as anxious, hostile, and depressed. Each participant was given nasal drops containing a virus and monitored in quarantine for the development of a common cold. 
The findings demonstrated that positive emotions were associated with a lower risk of developing the common cold and people who experienced more positive emotions reported less verified illness rates.  There was also less reporting of actual symptoms among these individuals compared to people who reported more negative emotions.  In fact, negative emotional tendencies did not predict verified colds but instead predicted greater reporting of unfounded symptoms.  This led the researchers to suggest that these individuals interpreted ambiguous physical sensations in a negative light, particularly as they were fully aware that they had received a cold virus.  In contrast, positive individuals perceived the cold virus in a more positive light and, in many cases, didn?t even report the symptoms.

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