MBS Blog #26–Update on social contagion and Mind Body syndrome

Written by Dr. Schubiner on September 21, 2009 – 7:03 pm -

More on the “contagiousness” of Mind Body syndrome:

Over the past couple of years, a new line of research has been developed which documents that certain disorders are socially contagious.  Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler have published articles in the New England Journal of Medicine and in the British Medical Journal documenting that smoking, obesity and happiness all share the ability to be affected by those around us.  The more people you know who are smokers, the more likely it is that you will be a smoker.  The same is true for having contacts who are overweight.  And if you have more friends and relatives who are happy, you are more likely to be happy!  It seems obvious that these issues can be affected by being in close contact because these issues are generally thought to be caused by our values, our thoughts and our behaviors.  That is, we can choose whether we smoke, how much we eat and exercise, and how to respond to the stresses in our lives.

Reading these articles made me think once again about the contagiousness of mind body syndrome.  I wrote a blog about this last year (Blog #6, June 20, 2008), but we now have some data and a way to measure this construct that we call social contagion.  Can physical symptoms be contagious?  We know that the flu or the common cold are contagious, i.e. you can catch it by being in close contact with someone who has it due to being exposed to the virus which causes it.  We would never think that you can catch cancer or heart disease because these are diseases caused by something that goes wrong inside your body, not something you catch from someone else. Read more »

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