COMMON COLD

Practically all recent research on the common cold has been devoted to finding the viruses which are believed to be responsible for this unpleasant condition. While considerable progress has been made in this direction, there is also increasing recognition that the state of the organism itself determines whether the virus will take hold and produce the usual symptoms. Evidence for this lies in the fact that some individuals are more susceptible to colds than others, and that the same person may have greater resistance at one time than at another. Studies have shown, for example, that if people are exposed to infected nasal secretions, only about one half of them will develop symptoms— and this apparently has nothing to do with the season of the year, the length of time since the last cold, or even drafty surroundings. While some of this susceptibility is probably due to physical conditions, such as fatigue or sensitivity of the nasal passages, there is a growing conviction that emotional factors “can also alter the permeability of the mucosa (mucous membranes) or modify immune responses” through the autonomic nervous system (Wittkower and White, 1959). As these authors point out, there is at present only limited evidence for the effects of emotion on the common cold, but what there is, is highly suggestible. Despert (1944) carefully recorded the absences of children from nursery school which were attributed to colds, and found that they totaled twice as many for eight children from broken homes as for eight children from especially happy families. In a larger sample, she found a close though by no means perfect relationship between colds and emotional stress. Richter (1943) has observed that respiratory infections may be the cause as well as the effect of emotional disturbances in children, and are particularly likely to produce apathy and depression. Holmes et al. (1951) found evidence of repressed resentment in patients with repeated colds, and suggested that disturbances of the respiratory tract are attempts at ridding the organism not only of physical irritants but of emotional irritants. A number of psychoanalysts have reported that some patients develop colds, laryngitis, or other respiratory ailments while working through important conflicts, or while repressing feelings of rage. Alexander and Saul (1940) found that colds either disappeared entirely or became less frequent following successful psychoanalytic treatment for other complaints. One patient, for example, had colds whenever she became distressed or panicky as a result of being denied affection and attention. This is a reminder that colds often yield “secondary gains” in terms of sympathy and concern from others or temporary escape from unpleasant situations. Red- lich and Freedman (1966) make this comment, “It is a common clinical observation that the common cold follows slights, humiliations, and disappointments in love,” and quote Friedrich Nietzsche’s remark, “Contentment preserves one even from catching cold. Has a woman who knew that she was well dressed ever caught cold? No, not even when she had scarcely a rag on her back.” At the present time there are not enough data on which to base any general conclusions on this or any other line, especially since there is always the possibility that a cold may be due to such physical factors as infection, allergens, or changes in temperature and humidity. But it also has to be borne in mind that emotional tension may render the organism more susceptible to these factors.

Cite this page: N., Pam M.S., "COMMON COLD," in PsychologyDictionary.org, November 28, 2018, https://psychologydictionary.org/common-cold/ (accessed May 24, 2019).
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