Carnegie Mellon University

Happy = Healthy

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Research Suggests Defense Against Common Cold

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Keep a positive attitude and you may just get through this year's cold and flu season without getting sick. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon have found that people with a generally sunny disposition are more likely to stay healthy when exposed to a cold or flu virus.

"People with a positive emotional style have different immune responses to the virus," explained Sheldon Cohen, professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon. "And when they do get a cold, they interpret their illness as being less severe."

Through 20 years of research, Cohen and his colleagues have found that people under stress are more likely to develop colds and influenza when exposed to an upper respiratory virus. Stressed people also have more severe symptoms.

Cohen added, "In contrast to our earlier stress research, our recent work suggests that our positive attributes can play a beneficial role in our ability to fight off infection."

Michael Scheier, head of Carnegie Mellon's Department of Psychology and co-director of the Pittsburgh Mind-Body Center, has been studying the effects of optimism on a person's health since the early 1980s.

"Our research clearly shows that optimists cope more effectively with stress than people who are more pessimistic," said Scheier.  "Not surprisingly, optimists have also been shown to recover faster following major surgery, to have fewer post-surgical complications following major surgery, such as coronary artery bypass surgery, and to live longer if they contract a life-threatening illness, such as cancer."

Established in 2000, the Pittsburgh Mind-Body Center is a joint center between Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh. Funded by the National Institutes of Health, it is dedicated to promoting scientific excellence in understanding mind-body interactions as they determine health.

Related Links: Department of Psychology  |  Pittsburgh Mind-Body Center