Playing Sick May Help People Feel Unique, Important
Mon Sep 30, 5:34 PM ET
By Charnicia E. Huggins

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - New research findings suggest that people who fake or exaggerate illness or injuries may do so because of the favorable attention they get by doing so.



"It appears that there may be some social and psychological advantages to being sick, above and beyond the more obvious benefits like getting gifts and being allowed to miss work or school," Dr. Jim Hamilton of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa told Reuters Health.

"It may be that people who present themselves as having a fascinating medical problem, or who use the sick role as an opportunity show off prized medical knowledge, may actually be getting encouragement from their family and friends," he added.

Hamilton and his colleagues investigated the psychological advantages gained by individuals who seek opportunities to occupy the "sick role" by allowing groups of students to evaluate various versions of a 2-page report about a 22-year-old patient. In each version, the patient developed abdominal pains that later became a medical emergency.

Altogether, the students had a more favorable impression of the patient when he or she was described as having sophisticated medical knowledge, rather than as someone who was indifferent or disinterested in the details of their medical condition, the investigators report. In fact, students rated the patient who exhibited medical knowledge as much more intelligent and knowledgeable overall than the disinterested patient.

This was true even though both patients were described as having similar grades, as taking mostly mathematics and business courses, and as being of the same socioeconomic status, the researchers note.

The students also had more favorable impressions of the 22-year-old when his or her symptoms were described as resulting from a rare intestinal problem, rather than from a common case of appendicitis, study findings indicate. For example, when the patient had a rare medical condition, he or she was also assumed to have higher self-esteem.

The findings will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.

"One implication of this research is that our results may help to understand the process by which a person develops a chronic problem of exaggerating or feigning illness," Hamilton said. "It might be that people who feel undistinguished or unappreciated discover, more or less by accident, that the sick role provides a way for him or her to feel unique and important."

However, more study is needed, according to the researcher. "The results of our research are preliminary and they need to be replicated," Hamilton said.

SOURCE: Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 2002; in press.

==============================
"It was once written "To thine own self be true". But how do we know who we really are? Every man must confront the monster within himself, if he is ever to find peace without. .." Outer Limits(Monster)