Why do some people get sick less often than others? Does it all come down to a healthy diet, more rigorous hygiene habits or an all-out avoidance of germ-ridden places? Sure, those factors almost certainly make a big difference in our susceptibility to colds and other illnesses, but it seems another big determinant in how often we get sick is how afraid we (or our bodies) are of coming down with something. Recent studies show that exposure to images of sick people can actually kick our immune systems into high gear to help us from getting ill ourselves.
This was recently determined by researchers at the University of British Columbia. They studied the immune system reactions of 28 participants, who were either exposed to a slide show of diseases — depicted through photos of sneezing, coughing, rashes, pox, etc. — or a slide show of guns, in which menacing individuals brandished firearms and aimed them at the participant. Both shows were meant to induce stress, and both did. However, while the gun show increased immune system functioning by a mere six percent, the disease show increased it by an average of 23 percent.
Chief researcher Mark Schaller believes this is actually an evolutionary response that we’ve developed over thousands of years. “If you see a bunch of people around you who look sick, that’s a pretty good indicator that you’re in imminent danger of infection. Which means that this is one of those times when it’d be wise to allocate more of those precious bodily resources to mount an especially vigorous immunological defense,” he told Psychology Today.
That’s not to say you should seek out the sickest person in your office to help motivate your immune system and kick it up a notch — exposing yourself to someone else’s germs is definitely not the wisest plan of action. Still, all those cold, flu and allergy ads in the media, even nauseating ones like this, might actually be doing you some good.
Written by Dr. Martha Edwards
I kind of believe this.. I have been working on an assisted living unit for about 7 months now and only had about 1 week where I had a cold. I thought maybe it would be from strengthening my immune system by being with sick people but maybe its from seeing sick people.