Self-Esteem Healthier

We’ve long known that status is strong correlated with health.  But we’ve also long wondered: what matters more, how others see you, or how you see yourself?  Now we know:

193 healthy men and women ages 21-55 years were assessed for subjective (perceived rank) and objective SES [Socio-Economic Status], cognitive, affective and social dispositions, and health practices. Subsequently, they were exposed by nasal drops to a rhinovirus or influenza virus and monitored in quarantine for objective signs of illness and self-reported symptoms. … Increased subjective SES was associated with decreased risk for developing a cold for both viruses. This association was independent of objective SES and of cognitive, affective and social disposition. … Poorer sleep among those with lesser subjective SES may partly mediate the association between subjective SES and colds. … Increased subjective [status] is associated with less susceptibility to upper respiratory infection, and this association is independent of objective [status], suggesting the importance of perceived relative rank to health. (more; HT Alex Tabarrok.)

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  • http://zemaj.com James

    I wonder what the correlation is between subjective and objective status.

  • http://retiredurologist.com retired urologist

    I am immediately curious to know why these healthy men and women volunteered to be exposed to influenza virus and subsequently quarantined. The article mentions research grants, but makes no mention of incentives; was it money, altruism, strange signaling? How many people had to be screened to find 193 individuals with the poor judgment to risk their lives for such trivia? I would think this says far more about the subjects (and the researchers) than their SES scores.

  • John

    Yeah, and people that think more highly of themselves than their peers do are happier compared to their colleagues who have more accurate self-perception. I remember there was a study on that too.

    Bias overcomers, beware your health and happiness!

  • http://www.angryblog.org Brian Moore

    Holy crap, am I reading Figure 1 correctly in the paper? Is it really saying that if you think you’re “high status” you’re more than half as likely to get sick from direct exposure than someone who thinks they are “low status”? Even after controlling for actual, objective status?

    That’s huge. That seems to blow even the placebo effect out of the water. Obviously we need to market a cold cure with advertisements that say “the pill is made out of pure gold — only the coolest, most elite of people will receive it.”

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    retired, people volunteer for randomized trials all the time – the stakes here seem pretty low compared to most of those, and these folks were paid $800 each.

    Brian, we often see status-health effects that large.

  • Microbiologist

    Yawn. Nominal p only below 0.02, and no Bonferonni correction, that I can see, despite testing 20 hypotheses?

  • jz

    I find these findings believable.

    Our daughter developed some spring-time allergy symptoms. My high SES husband postured defensively, “It’s not from my genes.”

  • http://un-thought.blogspot.com/ Floccina

    Assuming the study was accurate, is it possible for one to raise his own status/self esteem?

  • big other effect

    Wait, this has larger implications.

    basically, it means that religion”we are all great under god” can actually be beneficial.

    ALso, this provides clear evidence for self deception to evolve.

    wow.