RCPP described earlier (M. Friedman et al., 1984; Powell & Thoresen, 1988). Enduring personality characteristics can be modified, and at least in that instance seemed to have had important consequences for subsequent health. Anger and hostility are amenable to treatment (Deffenbacher, 1994), as are other negative affects such as anxiety and depression (Chambless & Gillis, 1993; Hollon, Shelton, & Davis, 1993). Further, preliminary studies suggest such treatments may have positive effects on health (Gidron, Davidson, & Bata, 1999). Given the status of the related literatures, larger controlled trials examining the health benefits of interventions addressing these characteristics are justified, especially in high risk populations such as postinfarction patients.
The personality and health literature also has implications for primary prevention efforts. If traits such as (low) agreeableness and high neuroticism contribute to illness, then development of social and emotional adjustment and competencies should reduce risk. Attempts to prevent emotional disorders, antisocial behavior, and substance abuse in children and adolescents often focus on traits and processes that are similar to those discussed in models of the personality characteristics that confer risk of physical illness (Blechman, 1996; Blechman, Prinz, & Dumas, 1995; Caplan et al., 1992; Greenberg, Kusche, Cook, & Quamma, 1995; Tolan, Guerra, & Kendall, 1995). These prevention programs attempt to foster emotional self-regulation and social interaction competencies through educational methods. These interventions generally produce improved emotional adjustment, peer relations, and conflict resolution skills.
Although targeted toward mental health, this primary prevention technology may have beneficial effects on physical health as well. Thus, a final conclusion from the current research on personality traits as risk factors for physical illness is that the existing literature on primary prevention in the domain of social and emotional health may have valuable implications for the prevention of physical illness. Efforts to maximize the emotional and social adjustment of children and adolescents may contribute to their later physical health as adults.
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