Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Attitude Fights Colds

Cheerfulness helps the body brush off the common cold.

A smile a day may keep the doctor away. Happy people are better able to laugh off the common cold, according to a study. On the other hand, depressed people are more likely to complain about their symptoms whether or not they are actually sick.

A positive attitude brings fewer cold symptoms, explains Sheldon Cohn, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Cohn and coauthors interviewed 334 volunteers three evenings each week for two weeks to assess their mental state. The psychologists looked for signs of well-being, vigor, and calm as well as negative feelings like depression, anxiety, and hostility.

Volunteers were then given a squirt of rhinovirus—the germ behind the common cold—up the nose. During five days of observation, subjects were tested for infection.

Emotions and attitude had no impact on who actually caught a cold, as measured by the amount of rhinovirus in the body. Yet those with a positive take on life showed fewer symptoms of being under the weather. This finding also held up when researchers accounted for health practices and certain hormones known to make people more susceptible to the common cold. The study appeared in Psychosomatic Medicine.