Trust in your neighbours is linked to better physical and mental health

Trust in your neighbours is linked to better physical and mental health

By Liz Lockhart

An increase in trust in your neighbours is associated with better self-reported health.  Self-reported health status tends to be strongly related to actual health status, according to researchers from the University of Missouri.

‘I examined the idea of ‘relative position’, or where one fits into the income distribution in their local community, as it applies to both trust of neighbours and self-rated health,’ said Dr. Eileen Bjornstrom, an assistant professor of sociology.

‘Because human beings engage in interpersonal comparisons in order to gauge individual characteristics, it has been suggested that a low relative position, or feeling that you are below another person financially, leads to stress and negative emotions such as shame, hostility and disgust, and that health suffers as a consequence.  While most people aren’t aware of how trust impacts them, results indicated that trust was a factor in a person’s overall health.’  Bjornstrom said.

Bjornstrom examined the 2001 Los Angeles Family and neighbourhood Survey for this study.

She found that, contrary to expectations, respondents with a higher income, relative to their community, were more likely to be distrustful of their neighbours.  Factors such as level of education, income and age were taken into account.  People who reported that ‘their neighbours can be trusted’ also reported better health on average.

‘I was surprised about the direction in which relative position was linked to distrust.  If affluent individuals are less likely to trust their poorer neighbours, it could be beneficial to attempt to overcome some of the distrust that leads to poor health, Bjornstrom said.

‘It is possible that shared community resources that promote interaction, such as sidewalks and parks, could help bridge the neighbourhood trust gap, and also promote health and well-being.  Residents o all economic status might then benefit if community cohesion was increased.  Additional research can address those questions,’ added Bjornstrom.

There was not a direct link between low relative position among neighbours and better health and Bjornstrom believes that further study needs to be done in different contexts.  She believes that research on relative position in the workplace or among social networks would provide greater insight.

‘For example, relative position at work could matter for health because it might be associated with autonomy or other benefits,’ Bjornstrom said.


Bjornstrom’s study appears in the journal Social Science & Medicine.

Source: University of Missouri  

I don’t know about you but this study has shown me absolutely nothing! Perhaps I have just missed the point.  Better off neighbours distrust their less well off locals which impacts on their health.  Less well off people have not shown any increase in health benefits.  I would, therefore, agree with Bjornstrom that further research is needed if anyone wants to spend money on research that appears to have no clear outcome. 

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