Each year, the prestigious academic journal The BMJ releases a Christmas issue, putting together a series of more lighthearted studies. As part of this year’s issue, scientists ask whether the biblical saying “pride comes before a fall” has any truth in it.

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Psychological factors can sometimes raise the risk of falling.

The incidence of falls among the elderly and its impact on health are serious and well-documented issues.

In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls are “the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among adults” aged 65 and above.

Serious injury and loss of independence are only a few of the consequences that falls can have on seniors. Almost 29 percent of elderly Americans reported having fallen at least once in the past year, according to the CDC’s latest statistics.

Some of the factors that increase the risk of falling include medications, sedentarism, and visual impairment.

In addition to these physical risk factors, there are also psychological ones. For instance, previous research has shown that a fear of falling, depression, or overconfidence can contribute to the likelihood of falling among seniors.

In the new study, researchers from the universities of Stirling and Aberdeen as well as the Royal Alexandra Hospital — all of which are in the United Kingdom — set out to investigate the role of another psychological factor: pride.

Starting from a rather literal interpretation of the biblical proverb that says that “pride comes before a fall,” Michael Daly, from the University of Stirling, and his colleagues wondered if the saying would hold true of physical falls.

As the authors mention in their paper, no funding was provided for this research.

To ascertain the link between falls and pride, the team examined data available from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, which is a prospective, ongoing study of seniors.

Daly and colleagues examined more than 6,400 participants aged 60 and above at baseline, almost 5,000 of whom were available for follow-up.

The participants reported on their feelings of pride in the 30 days leading up to the study, as well as on their history of falls over the past 2 years.

Using a Likert scale, participants answered the question, “During the past 30 days, to what degree did you feel proud?”

Of all the respondents, 25.9 percent said “very much,” 32.6 percent answered “quite a bit,” 24.3 percent said “moderately,” and 12 percent and little over 5 percent said “a little” and “not at all,” respectively.

Overall, the analysis revealed that people who reported high levels of pride had lower odds of experiencing falls, when compared with participants reporting low levels of pride.

In fact, reporting high levels of pride in 2010–2011 reduced the likelihood of having had a fall in the 2 years prior to follow-up by 19 percent.

The association remained strong after adjusting for age, sex, income, and history of falls. The authors conclude:

In this longitudinal analysis of the association between baseline levels of pride and subsequent reported falls, data did not support the received wisdom that ‘pride comes before a fall.’ Conversely, higher levels of pride may actually be protective against falls in older adults.”

“Future studies may seek to explore the drivers of this association,” they say.