Effects of the common cold on mood, psychomotor performance, the encoding of new information, speed of working memory and semantic processing

Brain Behav Immun. 2012 Oct;26(7):1072-6. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2012.06.012. Epub 2012 Jun 27.


Previous research has shown that people with the common cold report a more negative mood and psychomotor slowing. Recent research suggests that memory speed may also be impaired. This was examined in the study reported here. A prospective design was used and all participants (N=200; half male, half female; mean age 21 years, range 18-30 years) carried out a baseline session when healthy. The test battery involved mood rating, simple and choice reaction time, verbal reasoning and semantic processing. Volunteers returned when they developed an upper respiratory tract illness (URTI) and repeated the test battery. If they remained healthy they were recalled as a control. One hundred and eighty-nine participants completed the study and 48 developed URTIs and 141 were in the healthy control group. Symptoms and signs suggested that those who were ill had colds rather than influenza. The results showed that those with colds reported lower alertness, a more negative mood, and psychomotor slowing. They were also slower at encoding new information and slower on the verbal reasoning and semantic processing tasks. The magnitude of the mood changes associated with being ill were correlated with symptom severity. The performance changes were not correlated with symptom severity, sleep duration or mood changes. Further research is now needed to elucidate the underlying mechanisms of the behavioral malaise associated with URTIs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affect / physiology*
  • Body Temperature / physiology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Common Cold / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Mental Processes / physiology*
  • Mucus / metabolism
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Young Adult