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Could Disease Labelling Have Positive Effects?

Friday 7 December 2018


From medical journal Patient Education and Counseling:


Stethoscope puzzle

Could disease labelling have positive effects? An experimental study exploring the effect of the chronic fatigue syndrome label on intended social support

By Samara Nobleabc, Carissa Bonnerabc, Jolyn Herschabc, Jesse Jansenabc, Kevin McGeechanabc, Kirsten McCafferyabc

aThe University of Sydney, Faculty of Medicine and Health, School of Public Health, Sydney, Australia
bWiser Healthcare, Australia
cThe University of Sydney, Centre for Medical Psychology and Evidence-based Decision-making (CeMPED), Sydney, Australia

Available online 15 October 2018
© 2018 Published by Elsevier B.V.


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.

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.


Chronic fatigue syndrome
Medical label
Social support
Gender differences


Full article…



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