Personality Traits

By Gerald Matthews; Ian J. Deary et al. | Go to book overview

10
Traits and health

Introduction

It is a popular notion that personality traits may influence the state of a person's physical health. The image of the stressed, aggressive businessman being liable to have a heart attack is so common as to have become a cliché, yet, as we shall see, it has little evidential basis. If personality traits do influence health, then this is one of the prime reasons to measure personality traits in medical settings. However, there are difficulties in establishing the true nature of the relationship between personality and health, including measurement, the distinction between subjectively reported symptoms and objective signs of illness, and the direction of causation. In addition, it is virtually impossible to assess the amount of risk that personality traits pose on their own–the separate impact they might have over and above that of poverty or working conditions, for example. The best solution is to try to design studies and use statistical analyses that are appropriate to the study of complex interactions. In this chapter we first discuss models of personality and health, then go on to describe more specific areas such as personality, stress and heart disease. Finally, we briefly discuss the connection between personality and clinically defined 'psychosomatic' disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome and globus pharyngis.


Models of the association between personality and health

We begin by reviewing possible causal relationships between personality and health. Figure 10.1 shows four of the main ways in which health status and personality might be linked (Suls and Rittenhouse, 1990; Smith and Williams, 1992). The first possibility makes the strongest assumptions about the importance of personality traits; traits may represent biologically based differences that partly cause different illness outcomes. For instance, if neuroticism represents differentially sensitive autonomic responsivity, as discussed in chapter 9, then one might expect disorders such as hypertension, which are under autonomic control, to be related to neuroticism differences. Second, the relationship between traits and illness might be correlational rather than causal; for instance, the same biological processes might underlie traits and illness outcomes without either being causally related to the other. Perhaps, for instance, a particular gene makes someone susceptible to

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Personality Traits
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents vii
  • Figures x
  • Tables xiii
  • Boxes xvi
  • Preface to the First Edition xix
  • Preface to the Second Edition xxiii
  • I - The Nature of Personality Traits 1
  • 1 - The Trait Concept and Personality Theory 3
  • 2 - Persons, Situations and Interactionism 39
  • 3 - Personality Across the Life Span 58
  • 4 - Stable Traits and Transient States 77
  • 5 - Alternatives to Trait Theory 112
  • II - Causes of Personality Traits 133
  • 6 - Genes, Environments and Personality Traits 135
  • 7 - The Psychophysiology of Traits 166
  • 8 - The Social Psychology of Traits 204
  • III - Consequences and Applications 239
  • 9 - Stress 241
  • 10 - Traits and Health 273
  • 11 - Abnormal Personality Traits? 294
  • 12 - Personality, Performance and Information-Processing 325
  • 13 - Applications of Personality Assessment 357
  • 14 - Conclusions 391
  • References 411
  • Author Index 482
  • Subject Index 487
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