Negative thinking can be contagious

Study finds even adults in company of negative thinkers can latch on to their negative way of looking at the world

Friends sitting togetherEvery one faces difficulties in life. Some of us do what we can about it, and some see difficult times as a consequence of the choices we have made and hence believe that these tough times will never get over. Such individuals also think there must be some deficiency within that causes such problems in life. This way of thinking or ‘cognitive vulnerability’ is a strong symptom of impending depression.

A study has revealed that if you are in regular touch with such a person, soon you may also adopt this way of thinking. Usually, we have own individual style of thinking, however if we meet such people during momentous occasions in life, this thinking can get easily rubbed off on us.

For the study, researchers enrolled 103 roommate pairs whose pairing was random; all of them staying together as part of starting their college life.

They were tested at regular intervals for their ‘way of thinking’ through a questionnaire; 1 month from starting college, 3 months later and 6 months later.

The numbers showed that a person living a roommate with high degree of ‘cognitive vulnerability’ was likely to start developing similar traits… within 3 months. Also, those who started thinking this way after 3 months were twice as likely to show signs of depression after 6 months.

On the other hand, if a person had low ‘cognitive vulnerability’ and s/he was paired with someone with lesser extent of such thought processes, his own vulnerability was reduced within 3 months.

The numbers are credible proof that cognitive vulnerability is affected by the level of vulnerability of immediate peers.

Psychological scientists Gerald Haeffel and Jennifer Hames of the University of Notre Dame who conducted the research say that “Surrounding a person with others who exhibit an adaptive cognitive style should help to facilitate cognitive change in therapy. Our study demonstrates that cognitive vulnerability has the potential to wax and wane over time depending on the social context. This means that cognitive vulnerability should be thought of as plastic rather than immutable.”

Their study was published in Clinical Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Read the full story at the APS website.

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