Gloomy Thinking Can Be Contagious

At the University of Notre Dame, psychologist Gerald Haeffel has recently obtained results from a natural experiment that unfolds every year at the university. In a paper published recently in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, Haeffel and co-author Jennifer Hames report that roommates can have strong effects — both positive and negative — on one another’s mental health.

Like many schools, Notre Dame assigns new students their roommates. Haeffel recruited some of the students for a study and measured their psychological predispositions.

One of the things he was interested in was how different students respond to adversity. Take, for example, two hypothetical young scholars who do poorly on a classroom test: “One student fails the exam and thinks to [herself], ‘I’m dumb, I’m worthless. I can’t believe I failed this exam,'” Haeffel says. The same student may also engage in catastrophic thinking, imagining that because she failed the exam, she’s going to fail the class or even flunk out of college.

By contrast, though the other student also tells herself it was disappointing to fail, she puts it down to a lack of preparation. She tells herself, “I’ll work harder next time.”

“These thinking styles were contagious,” he says. “If you came to college and your roommate had a very negative thinking style, your own thinking style became more negative.”

Interestingly, Haeffel found that the reverse could be true as well. Some students with a gloomy disposition who got a cheerful, upbeat roommate were more likely to be cheerful and upbeat six months later. When confronted by a setback, such as a bad grade or a romantic breakup, these students began demonstrating some of the resilience of their cheerful companions.

From: Health News from NPR
June 24, 2013
by Shankar Vedantam

3 thoughts on “Gloomy Thinking Can Be Contagious

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