Being popular may put you at greater risk of contracting an upper respiratory infection when you are under stress.
Typically people think being popular is a good thing. This belief makes sense because popularity offers many benefits such as greater opportunities from having social contacts, a boost to self-esteem and respect from others. Research has also shown that the diverse social networks popular people have may also help them cope with stress better than less popular people. Popularity, however, may have a down side because popular people are exposed to a greater number of infectious agents when they interact with people in their diverse social networks. If this is true, then are popular people more likely to get sick when their immune system is weakened by stressful life events? To find out researchers from
conducted a study. Carnegie
What was the research about?
The experimenters recruited 114 college students for their study. The study began with participants completing several questionnaires indicating any stressful life events they had experienced in the last 12 months (the measure of stress level) and how diverse their social network was (the measure of popularity). After completing the initial questionnaires, all participants kept weekly diaries for the next 12 weeks. In their weekly diary entries, participants indicated whether they had any symptoms normally associated with an upper respiratory infection such as nasal congestion, cough, sore throat, etc. When any participants did report having these symptoms, they were immediately scheduled to visit the campus infirmary for a check-up to verify if they did actually have an upper respiratory infection.
The study results showed that less popular participants had an equal number of upper respiratory infections whether they were under stress or not. The popular participants, however, had fewer infections when they were not stressed but more infections when they were under stress. Therefore, the popular participants enjoyed better health as long as they were not under stress, but when under stress they actually got sick more often than the less popular participants did.
Why should it matter to me?
Although being popular can be nice, it may sometimes jeopardize your health by exposing you to more infectious agents. When a person’s immune system is already weakened by stress they may be more likely to get sick as they socialize with all their friends. Add to this the pressure some people feel to constantly socialize in an attempt to increase their popularity, and popularity becomes a real liability. Perhaps it’s best, as with food and drink, to enjoy socialization in moderation, and even less so when under increased stress.
Source: Hamrick, Natalie, Sheldon, Cohen, & Rodriguez, Mario, S. (2002). Being popular can be healthy or unhealthy: Stress, social network diversity, and incidence of upper respiratory infection. Health Psychology, 21, 294-298.