Negative Social Comparisons Could Contribute to Fibromyalgia’s Severity, Study Suggests

Negative Social Comparisons Could Contribute to Fibromyalgia’s Severity, Study Suggests

Negative social comparisons, in which patients negatively compare themselves to others and express negative emotions, could contribute to the severity of fibromyalgia symptoms, a Canadian study suggests.

The findings support the theory that both biological and psychosocial factors trigger excessive pain signaling in fibromyalgia, and suggest that a combination of biological and psychosocial interventions may be needed to treat the condition, researchers argued.

The study was published in the journal Plos One in an article titled, “Personal relative deprivation associated with functional disorders via stress: An examination of fibromyalgia and gastrointestinal symptoms.”

Personal relative deprivation is a scientific term describing when people compare themselves to others in a negative way, resulting in negative emotions. Research shows that this has a negative impact on both physical and mental health.

A research team at the University of Regina, in Canada, explored whether these processes could contribute to the severity of fibromyalgia symptoms. The study also included patients with gastrointestinal symptoms.

Data showed that scores on a deprivation assessment could predict scores on a fibromyalgia impact questionnaire beyond what could be explained using demographic measures, including age, education, depression, and anxiety.

Using a statistical analysis that indicates the order of cause and effect, the team showed that the impact of negative social comparison on fibromyalgia was, at least in part, mediated by stress. Those who reported having a formal fibromyalgia diagnosis scored higher on both the negative social comparison assessment and the fibromyalgia impact questionnaire than those without a diagnosis.

Results were similar in people with gastrointestinal symptoms, as stress helped explain the link between social comparisons and symptoms.

The study adds to other current research showing that psychological and psychosocial factors may have a profound effect on physical processes in the body.

Researchers acknowledged that the study has limitations, as participants were enrolled online without a clinical examination. This likely resulted in a younger and more well-educated patient sample. It was also impossible for researchers to assess bodily causes of the disease.

Researchers said these processes might only impact disease in a subtype of fibromyalgia patients. Larger studies are needed to understand whether patients who score high on negative social comparison assessments would benefit from psychosocial interventions.


  1. Denise Bault says:

    Oh goodie. Another study that is a waste of money; people who have fibromyalgia are more depressed. DUH. The kicker was that this was an “online” study. Of course having an illness that takes away almost everything a person works for their entire life causes depression. Chronic pain and never ending fatigue also causes us to be more depressed. Once again, DUH. I wish they would quit wasting money on studies that don’t do a thing to help us! Can anyone actually tell me how this study helps any of us?

    • Betsy Jacobson (formerly Fibrobetsy) says:

      The truth is, Denise, that since FM is a CNS (Central Nervous System) condition, it’s pretty obvious that PWFM experience symptoms described above, and I agree with you that another study like this is unnecessary. I used to recommend doctors to patients around the country who were recommended to me by their satisfied patients, and not one doctor nor any of mine asked me for a copy of my 7 page list of treatment modalities, coping options, good literature on FM, etc. Too bad. It’s a bit out of date now, since I haven’t updated it for over 6 years, but I was well known in the lay FM community in this country, and I traveled to conferences around the country, worked hard to share info with many professionals, etc.


  2. Kathy says:

    Instead of worthless studies, why not work on a cure? Or at least a way to reduce the pain? Those of us with chronic pain would then become happier to have part of ourselves and lives back! Then we wouldn’t be wasting time and money on studies that we all know the answers to.

  3. Pamula Furness says:

    I have to agree 100% with Denise Bault, this ‘study’, is indeed a complete waste of time and money, and does nothing to help anybody, except the pockets of those who produced it. Not only that, but it does hint that perhaps we have some control over our symptoms, (if the pain is increased due to ‘negative social comparison’, the suggestion will be that we can ‘think’ our way out of pain). More needs to be done to find the CAUSE of this devastating living death of a disease, not ways to manipulate the symptoms.

  4. Kate says:

    But psychological factors have a very real and valid impact on many medical conditions (fibro, cancer, IBD, etc). Acknowledging this isn’t the same as saying “it’s all in the head” of the people who are suffering. Maybe the purpose of studies like this one is to try and show that, while we’re still looking for a cure, we need to do better to help emotionally and psychologically support people with fibro.

  5. Heather J says:

    I would be interested in what sort of questions were asked. Are patients being asked to deny that they have symptoms that impact their lives?

    It helps to think positively, but there is a reality that comes with chronic health issues. Ask diabetic patients if they have a more difficult time making choices at restaurants than their friends do… and what answer do you think you would get (for example)?

    Are these study authors engaging in victim blaming or in legitimate research? Chronic illness has a unique context for the person experiencing it. Rather than judge, try to do productive honest research.

    What are the researchers’ personal biases and how do they address them? Are we being stereotyped as “whiners”? Not fair. So much research is unethically devoid of consideration of the patient experience. Chronic health issues are life-changing and anyone who does not understand this needs to find a line of work that will not harm the patient population.

  6. Scott oconner says:

    As a male in his 50″s you get no where w drs n pain help,gotta learn to deal with it and avoid stress,I’m caregiving elderly Mom n have severe Chronic pain from osteo, fibro,scoliosis,n I feel for us all that are kicked in groin n told to suffer,n pay the lady at the desk.adding insult to injury,thought that was immoral n illegal,now all this opioid crisis bs .drug addicts been dying since day 1, the cure,make good patients suffer,boy am I,n millions of others,n I see drugs all over illegally,don’t think anything will change sadly,eccept guinea pig drug studies n hype. R.i.p USA. I miss you dearly..

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