Think positive thoughts

It turns out that Dale Carnegie was right about the power of positive thinking. The expectations of injured workers does influence their outcomes, according to research led by Donald Cole of the Institute for Work and Health (IWH) and the University of Toronto, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

More than 1,500 workers with soft-tissue injuries to the back or limbs who filed lost-time claims with the Ontario Workers’ Compensation Board, which subsequently became the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), were interviewed by telephone within three weeks of their injuries, and asked about their expectations for recovery.

Followup contacts during the year after the injury asked the workers about their perceptions of their pain, health-related quality of life and functional status specific to the injured area, and the data was adjusted for previous injuries involving compensation.

When the first contact was made, more workers reported that they were doing worse than expected, as opposed to better than expected.

People who reported doing much better than expected stopped receiving benefits — presumably because they returned to work, Cole says — 30 per cent faster than those who reported that they were doing worse than they had anticipated.

Those workers who expected to return to work quickly and resume their normal activities did so more than 35 per cent faster than those who felt otherwise.

Positive expectations were also associated with lower levels of reported pain.

“This could be an appraisal phenomenon” based on a person’s experience with previous injuries and other factors, Cole says.

But it’s consistent with a growing body of literature recognizing the impact of psychosocial factors such as social support networks. The importance of religious or spiritual beliefs and prayer can’t be excluded either, Cole concedes, although there has been little scientific research about that kind of link.

It’s very difficult to conduct workplace surveys that touch on personal matters such as family conflict, however, “and it’s even harder in terms of personal philosophy” or religion, but there is clearly a growing body of evidence indicating the importance of non-clinical factors.

The most recent research complements the results of an IWH literature review published last summer, which found that patients with a variety of clinical problems also had more positive outcomes if they had positive expectations.

Latest stories