Could disease labelling have positive effects? An experimental study exploring the effect of the chronic fatigue syndrome label on intended social support
Objective: Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) patients report limited social support, which can affect symptom severity. Friends are a key source of social support for young adults with CFS, but there is limited research on friends’ responses to the CFS label. We explored the potential benefits or harms of the CFS label for shaping the potential for social support from a friend’s perspective.
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Method: 207 university students responded to hypothetical scenarios about a close friend experiencing CFS. Participants were randomly allocated to either the CFS-label or no-label conditions. The potential for social support was operationalised as attitude (sympathetic or hostile), intended treatment support and intended behavioural support.
Results: The CFS label elicited a greater potential for social support, with significantly higher sympathetic responses, lower rejecting responses and greater support for active treatment. These effects were significantly greater in men compared to women. There was no effect on intended behavioural support.
Conclusion: This study suggests the CFS label may increase the potential for social support. Young adults, particularly men, held more supportive attitudes towards their friend when the CFS label was used.
Practical Implications: The effects of labels on the potential for social support need to be considered when evaluating the usefulness of a disease label.
Source: Noble S, Bonner C, Hersch J, Jansen J, McGeechan K, McCaffery K. Could disease labelling have positive effects? An experimental study exploring the effect of the chronic fatigue syndrome label on intended social support. Patient Educ Couns. 2018 Oct 15. pii: S0738-3991(18)30883-8. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2018.10.011. [Epub ahead of print]