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Dealing with stress and implications for health

by on 2014/04/17

A study reported in the media this week suggests that ‘being easier on yourself can improve your health’. The study conducted by Nicholas Rohleder and collaborators from Brandeis University examined the relationship between self-compassion and inflammatory responses to stress. The researchers reported a connection between a self-compassionate attitude and lower levels of stress-induced inflammation.

What did the researchers do?

The researchers asked 41 participants to rank their levels of self-compassion. Participants ranked their agreement to statements such as “I try to be understanding and patient towards aspects of my personality that I do not like”.

The participants took one stress test a day for two days and their levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6), an inflammatory agent linked to stress, were recorded before and after each test. After the first stress test, participants with higher self-compassion had lower levels of IL-6. On the second day it was found that those with low self-compassion had higher base levels of  IL-6 before the test suggesting they may have been carrying the stress they experienced the day before. Therefore, the results support the hypothesis that people with low self-compassion are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of stress.

How did the media handle reporting of this study?

In the Telegraph and Daily Mail reporting of the study we see numerous examples of good practice including naming the authors, and providing the Journal title and edition, so that the interested reader can find out more about the study.

On the downside however, the Telegraph wasn’t as careful as it could have been with its wording in reference to the research having ‘proven this hypothesis to be true’. In dealing with health and psychological issues a study can only add weight to existing evidence or provide new support for a hypothesis. A study cannot ‘prove’ an hypothesis ‘to be true’. This kind of wording would wrongly lead the reader to think the finding is absolute and unquestionable rather than providing one source of support that may be modified or refuted by other research. The Daily Mail over-egged the implications of the research findings in their headline asking whether ‘chilling out’ could ‘save your life?’ In general though the media reported the study findings and implications very similarly and close to the description of the research set out on the researcher’s University website.

Breines, JG; Thoma, MV; Gianferante, D; Hanlin, L; Chen; X & Rohleder, N. (2014). Self-compassion as a predictor of interleukin-6 response to acute psychosocial stressBrain, Behavior, and Immunity, 37, 109-114. DOI: 10.1016/j.bbi.2013.11.006


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