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Reading self-help books may lead to more stress: Study

The study raises doubts about the effectiveness of self-help books.

People who read self-help books may be more sensitive to stress and show higher depressive symptoms, according to a new study.

The study by researchers, including those from the University of Montreal in Canada, raises doubts about the effectiveness of self-help books. “The sale of self-help books generated over $10 billion in profits in 2009 in the US, which is a good reason to find out if they have a real impact on readers,” said Sonia Lupien, Director of the Centre of Studies on Human Stress (CSHS).

“Initially, we thought we had observed a difference in participants in terms of personality, sense of control, and self-esteem based on their self-help reading habits,” said first author Catherine Raymond, a doctoral student at the Institut universitaire en sante mentale de Montreal.

“In reality, there seems to be no difference between those who read and those who do not read these types of books,” said Raymond.

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“However, our results show that while consumers of certain types of self-help books secrete higher levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) when confronted with stressful situations, consumers of another type of self-help books show higher depressive symptomatology compared to non-consumers,” she said. The researchers recruited 30 participants, half of whom were consumers of self-help books. The team measured several elements of the participants, including stress reactivity (salivary cortisol levels), openness, self-discipline, extraversion, compassion, emotional stability, self-esteem, and depressive symptoms.

The group of self-help book consumers was itself divided into two types of readers – those who preferred problem-focused books (for example, Why Is It Always About You? or How Can I Forgive You?: The Courage to Forgive, the Freedom Not To) and those who preferred growth-oriented books (for example, You’re Stronger Than You Think or How to Stop Worrying and Start Living).

The results showed that consumers of problem-focused self-help books consumers presented greater depressive symptoms and that growth oriented self-help books consumers presented increased stress reactivity compared to non-consumers. “It seems that these books do not produce the desired effects. When we observe that the best predictor of purchasing a self-help book is having bought one in the past year, it raises doubts about their effectiveness,” Lupien said.


“Logically, if such books were truly effective, reading just one would be enough to solve our problems,” she said. The study was published in the journal Neural Plasticity.

First published on: 18-11-2015 at 20:56 IST
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