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11.10.2008


S-Words extend lifespan of writers and psychologists

Writers and psychologists who write more often in their autobiographies about important people close to them surroundings live longer, report psychologists from Carnegie Mellon University in Psychosomatic Medicine.

Psychologists do not agree with studies that link loneliness to lifespan. In these studies, researchers usually ask their subjects directly about friends, family and acquaintances in their immediate social circle. The problem with this approach is that most people are a bit ashamed of loneliness and isolation, and therefore paint too rosy a picture of their situation.

To get round this problem, the researchers red 220 autobiographies of deceased writers and nearly 100 autobiographies of deceased psychologists. The researchers counted the number of times 'social words' were used, like 'friend', 'cousin', 'brother', 'sister', 'child' or 'colleague'.

Earlier studies have already shown that poets who use the word 'I' are more likely to commit suicide. Psychologists also know that people who write 'I' and 'me' more often in their diaries are more likely to be depressed. So the researchers thought that they might find a relation between the lifespan of the writers and psychologists and the number of 'social words' in their autobiographies.

The graph below shows the relationship between the lifespan of the psychologists and the 'use of social roles in text'.

S-Words extend lifespan of writers and psychologists

The researchers found a relationship with the writers as well. The black curve below represents the third of the writers who used social words most often in their writings. The grey curve represents the third of the writers who used social words least often.

The curves for the psychologists are almost the same.

S-Words extend lifespan of writers and psychologists

The researchers think that the psychologists and writers who write more often about other people also have a wider social network, and as a result live longer. They are not completely sure about the results. A limited social network may also be due to illness. "It is possible that poor health over the authors' life span or during the writing of the autobiography altered the nature of their social interactions", they add to be on the safe side.

Source:
Psychosom Med. 2007 Apr;69(3):262-9.