The Role of Personality Factors in Predicting the Reported Physical Health Symptoms of Turkish College Students

Article excerpt

Developments in health psychology and epidemiology have raised the question of how personality factors affect physical well-being. Although today's Western society bombards individuals about the importance of having a physically, mentally, and spiritually balanced lifestyle in order to maintain a healthy and longer life, it seems to have an insufficient effect on such factors as stress, substance abuse, poor diet, insufficient exercise, and eating disorders. This discrepancy highlights the importance of recognizing the influence of personality characteristics on health-related behavior and physical well-being.

Several personality factors have been found to be positively related to physical well-being (Adler & Matthews, 1994; Scheier & Carver, 1987; Steptoe, Wardle, Vinck, Tuomisto, Holte, & Wichstrom, 1994; Kobasa, Maddi, & Courington, 1981; Kobasa, 1979; Antonovsky, 1987). Among these factors are optimism, control beliefs, and sense of coherence.

Optimism and Physical Well-being

A growing interest in the power of positive thinking on health has been manifested in the literature. Scheier and Carver (1985, 1987) first used the term "dispositional optimism," defining it as an inclination to anticipate the best possible outcome; they proposed a model that viewed optimism as it relates to generalized expectancies. Their studies that sought to evaluate the relationship between physical health and optimism revealed that dispositional optimism was associated with a higher level of physical well-being. They also pointed out that individual differences in persistent dispositional optimism were linked to the absence of physical symptoms over time. In another study, Scheier et al., (1989) reported that optimistic patients who underwent coronary artery bypass surgery had a faster recovery in the hospital, a more rapid return to normal activities, and a better post-surgical quality of life. Similarly, Nelson, Kar, and Coleman's (1995) study with undergraduate university students revealed that optimism correlated with low physical symptom scores and that females reported significantly more physical symptom than did males. Results of a study by Levy and his colleague added additional evidence to the link between optimism and physical well-being (cited in Peterson & Bossio, 1991). Further, Lyons and Chamberlain's (1994) findings showed a significant relationship between optimism and health. Lai (1997) in a search on the dimensionality of the Life Orientation Test (LOT) found a negative correlation between symptom reporting and optimism for both undergraduate and working adults groups.

Control Beliefs and Physical Well-being

The literature also has suggested that individuals' beliefs about control (i.e., the extent to which one can alter the environment or oneself to render events more pleasant and or less aversive), appears to be another important personality variable that influences health status (Peterson & Stunkard, 1989; Rosalack & Hampson, 1991; Rotter, 1966, 1975, 1990; Wallston, Wallston, Smith, & Dobbing, 1987). Indeed, it seems that the sense of personal control over life events advances the sense of well-being (Thompson, 1981). Specifically, the degree to which they attribute responsibility to themselves appears to help people cope with illness (Taylor, Lichtman, & Wood, 1984).

Early work that investigated the relationship between locus of control and health has revealed a positive relationship between internal locus of control and seeking information about one's illness (Seeman & Evans, 1962) and less symptomatology (Joe, 1971). Later, Wallston, Wallston, and DeVellis (1978) developed the multidimensional health locus of control (MHLC) scale to measure expectancy beliefs related to health. Health locus of control has been studied with an assorted range of behaviors. Results have revealed that individuals who highly valued health and were internal, had more willingness to seek more illness-related information than did those with an external locus of control (cited in Wallston, Wallston, Kaplan, & Maides, 1976). …