A NYTimes op-ed piece entitled A Fighting Spirit Won't Save Your Life concludes, "Linking health to personal virtue and vice not only is bad science, it’s bad medicine."
Columbia University Medical Center's Richard Sloan, PhD writes, "[T]here’s no evidence...that an upbeat attitude can prevent any illness or help someone recover from one more readily." He cites a study that found no significant association between personality traits and the risk of developing or surviving cancer.
Many patients and their families are going to be unhappy with Sloan's article. I know this because my writing and speaking bring me in contact with hundreds of patients whose faith in the power of positive thinking is immutable, no matter what scientific studies show.
One problem with the discussion is that personality traits, attitudes, moods, thoughts and faith are terms that are often used interchangeably despite their differences.
Another is the difficulty of controlling for ALL factors that might affect healing. For example, a patient who is optimistic about a good outcome may eat healthful meals despite nausea, while a patient who is pessimistic may eat little, feeling "why bother? I'm going to die."
While Sloan's and others' trials take these variables into account and control measurable factors as much as possible, it remains difficult to control ALL factors affected by patients' personality, attitude, mood, thoughts and faith.
In my next post, I'll address whether linking health to personal virtue and vice is "good" or "bad" medicine.