Why Succeeding Against the Odds Can Make You Sick

In 1997, a few hundred people who responded to a job posting in a Pittsburgh newspaper agreed to let researchers spray their nostrils with a rhinovirus known to cause the common cold. The people would then be quarantined in hotel rooms for five days and monitored for symptoms. In return they’d get $800.

“Hey, it’s a job,” some presumably said.

Compensation may also have come from the knowledge that, as they sat alone piling up tissues, they were contributing to scientific understanding of our social-microbial ecosystem. The researchers wanted to investigate a seemingly basic question: Why do some people get more colds than others?

To Gene Brody, a professor at the University of Georgia, the answer was “absolutely wild.” (Dr. Brody is a public-health researcher, so “wild” must be taken in that context.) He and colleagues recently analyzed the socio-economic backgrounds and personalities of the people in the Pittsburgh study and found that those who were “more diligent and tended to strive for success” were more likely than the others to get sick. To Dr. Brody, the implication was that something suffers in the immune systems of people who persevere in the face of adversity.

- New York Times

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