Discuss the Psychological Evidence Concerning the Relationship Between Personality, Stress and Disease.

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3) Discuss the psychological evidence concerning the relationship between personality, stress and disease.

Many psychologists believe that stress is a common cause of many illnesses, both physically and psychologically. So how does a person’s personality contribute to their levels of stress and thus make them a target for stress related illnesses such as coronary heart disease? This essay aims to look at definitions for stress and personality and see how the relationship between these can produce disease in the human body. The essay will also look at evidence for stress and its affect on health and personality types and how stress is associated with them. Stress can be defined as ‘a physical, mental, or emotional reaction resulting from individual’s response to environmental tensions, conflicts, pressures and similar stimuli’ (Fontana & Abouserie, 1993). Introduced to the world by a physiologist called Walter Cannon in 1914 and introduced to the scientific field with experiment by Hans Seyle throughout the 1930s, stress is considered a bodily response, with a stress causing stimulus referred to as a stressor. This essay aims to outline how personality is related to stress and how ultimately this can lead to disease in a person’s body as well as analysing existing evidence of the link between personality and disease. Kiecolt-Glaser performed many studies on people to see if stress had an effect on the immune system. The aim of her experiments were not to find out if stress had an effect on psychological or physical health, but to see if stress to see if the immune system would decrease during periods of stress, leaving the body vulnerable to colds and other common illnesses. She found, through using control groups, that people in much more stressful situations would have a much weaker immune system (Kiecolt-Glaser et al, 1984, 1987) Personality can be defined as ‘a person’s unique pattern of traits’ (Guilford 1959). They are the individual differences that define a person, making each person different. Personalities can, however, be categorised so that people can be grouped and viewed as a personality type. There are many ways to categorise different types of personalities or personality traits, such as Sheldon’s Physique Dimensions theory in 1942. This proposed that people act a certain way depending upon their physical appearance. However, concerning health and its relation to personality most psychologists use Friedman and Rosenman’s division of Type A or Type B. The work by Friedman and Rosenman examined Coronary Heart Disease (CHD), proposing that a certain personality trait would increase the vulnerability of such a stress-related illness. He called people who posses the trait Type As and people who didn’t Type B. A Type A personality is someone who is not resilient, thy show personality traits such as competitiveness, hostility and confrontation. A Type B is someone who shows traits such as relaxed, serenity and lack of time urgency. Other psychologists looked at the work by Friedman and Rosenman, and tested them for different factors. Some of these experiments found that the high levels of hostility and aggression in Type As were the cause of CHD. Williams (1989) looked at controlling risk factors like age, weight and smoking, and found that there was a link between hostility and CHD. Williams also found that hostility openly expressed is less damaging than hostility repressed. The work by Friedman and Rosenman can almost be criticised by saying is that in their theory Type As are more competitive and are better at sports. With physical exercise being a prime method of avoiding stress-related illness, why does this not help them decrease the risk of CHD? A model of Personality and Disease can help answer this. The Personality-Induced Hyperactivity model shows that health risk is brought on by psychological hyperactivity, which is directly a cause by personality and a stressful situation. It was found that Type A...
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