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(Last updated 10/25/00)
 
Dept. of Psychology
 

WHAT OTHERS' THINK IS IMPORTANT TO HEALTH AND HAPPINESS

COLUMBUS, Ohio - What others think about you may affect your own health and well being. A new study found that college students held in high esteem by their roommates were happier and had less physical problems than those who were not liked as much.

The less-favored students had more mental and physical problems, such as low-self esteem, depression and illness.


"According to this study, social acceptance affects mental and physical health more than health predicts social acceptance."
And while researchers in the past have acknowledged that a link exists between social acceptance and personal health, the jury was out on how the two affected each other. According to this study, social acceptance affects mental and physical health more than health predicts social acceptance.

"Self-esteem and other health factors were hurt if a student lived with someone who disliked him," said Brad Schmidt, a study co-author and an associate professor of psychology at Ohio State University.

The research appears in the current issue of the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. Schmidt co-authored the study with Thomas Joiner of Florida State University and Kathleen Vohs of Dartmouth College.

The study included 143 undergraduate students and their roommates. Some of the students - 84 women and 59 men - chose their own roommates, while others were assigned roommates by the university. Roommates of the participating students filled out a questionnaire in which they were asked how much esteem they had for their roommates (for example, "I see my roommate as a person of worth, at least on an equal basis with others.")

The participating students filled out questionnaires that measured their own feelings of depression, aggression, anger and self-esteem, as well as physical illness and alcohol and cigarette use. All students completed the questionnaires twice; the second session took place three weeks after the first.

Students who were disliked by their roommates reported more depression, anger, physical illness and lower self-esteem. Also, the self-esteem of disliked individuals tended to deteriorate during the three weeks between questionnaire sessions.

"This relatively quick change in self-esteem suggests that a lack of social interaction can create immediate emotional distress and physical consequences," Schmidt said.

Students who had low social acceptance from a roommate at the first session also reported higher levels of physical aggression at the second session.

"When a person is judged less than favorably, he is faced with either accepting or rejecting that opinion," Schmidt said. Acceptance might lead to depression, while rejection could lead to anger and physical aggression.

"But as feelings of social acceptance increased, so did self-esteem," he said. "An adequate level of social support can be a buffer against physical and mental health problems."

Overall, the findings suggested that social acceptance during the first session was related to a variety of mental and physical health factors three weeks later. But physical health was the only factor that seemed to have an influence on social acceptance.

"Physical health plays a role in social acceptance, particularly with individuals who don't develop social affiliations easily," Schmidt said. "If you're not taking care of yourself initially, you're not going to be attractive to and accepted by those around you. And this lack of acceptance may exacerbate your physical illness."

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Contact: Brad Schmidt, (614) 292-2687; Schmidt.283@osu.edu
Written by Holly Wagner, (614) 292-8310; Wagner.235@osu.edu