Friday, 20 January 2006

Cold comfort for shy people

"From the Archives", first published in the Digest 15.09.03

How sociable you are affects your chances of catching a cold. That's according to Sheldon Cohen (Carnegie Mellon University, USA) and colleagues (Universities of Pittsburgh and Virginia, USA) who measured the sociability of 334 people and then exposed them to a cold virus. Intriguingly, the more sociable a person was, the less likely they were to contract a cold.

It wasn't that sociable people, through all their mingling, had built up immunity through prior exposure to the virus – the researchers controlled for that by measuring pre-existing antibodies. Nor was it to do with better sleep and diet, or more positive emotions. The more sociable participants had all of these, but evidence for their protection from the virus remained even after controlling for such factors.

An alternative explanation proffered by the authors "is that sociability, a highly heritable characteristic, is partly determined by a gene or genes that contribute to sociability but at the same time contribute to biological processes that play a role in the body's ability to fight off infection".

Oh, and in case you're wondering, the participants were each paid $800 for their sniffles.

Cohen, S., Doyle, W.J., Turner, R., Alper, C.M., & Skoner, D.P. (2003). Sociability and susceptibility to the common cold. Psychological Science, 14, 389-395.

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