Illness expectations predict the development of influenza-like symptoms over the winter season

Complement Ther Med. 2020 May:50:102396. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2020.102396. Epub 2020 Apr 8.


Objective: This study explores the hypothesis that cognitive expectations of catching influenza-like symptoms increase the chances of developing the symptoms over the winter season.

Design: Self-reported data from 247 healthy volunteers were obtained twice, before and after the winter season. In the first assessment, expectations about developing influenza-like symptoms in the incoming months were charted. This data was matched with a post-winter assessment of the actual development of the symptoms.

Results: The odds of developing symptoms were highly associated with the expectations declared months before (OR = 1.776), and the association remained stable (OR = 1.453) even when accounting for previous influenza-like illnesses and the perception of general health. In contrast with previous findings, perceived stress was not associated with symptom development.

Conclusions: These results support the hypothesis of a self-fulfilling prophecy mechanism related to influenza-like symptoms.

Keywords: Illness Expectation; Influenza-Like Symptoms; Mind/Body Connection; Nocebo; Placebo.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Humans
  • Influenza, Human / psychology*
  • Male
  • Seasons*
  • Self Report
  • Young Adult