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 USD 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.
"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 (eg 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 (eg 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.
"I am a casual reader. I often come to second hand book joints with my limited budget because they have a wide variety of choices. There is also room for bargaining when I come across a title I have been seeking for some time.
After reading it, I can also sell it back to the same dealer for a reduced price," said a customer, preferring to be anonymous. "It is interesting to note that most dealers, though coming from less privileged background, acquire domain knowledge of their business in due course. If some one asks for a particular book or author, many of them could easily pick it from the stock or tell the customer they don't have it," he said. The pavement sellers source books from household trash to avid readers who sell their collections to raise money to buy new arrivals. "Many of the books on display here are sourced from scrap dealers so that we could pass maximum cost benefit to customers," said a book seller. "There are also many who want to empty their cupboard after a while and sell them to us at a discount price," he said. According to a recent study in the US, it has been found that the Internet has not killed printed books and most people still prefer it to digital reading. Madhavi Gupta of Butterfly Books, an entrepreneur in this field, has come out with a new idea to catalyse the sale of books by launching a unique concept, "Book by Kilo", which, she claims, has proved "a real page-turner". "Our kids are not growing up with the culture of reading books. They are inculcated to this but hooked of mobile phones and other digital devices. In addition to this, price is also a major concern. Therefore, we started the concept of selling books by their weight, fixing the price per kg at break-even point." "Our idea is to sell good quality books at cheaper prices and books bought by weight are almost fifth to eight times cheaper that the original price of the book," Madhavi added.