Personality and Ill Health

Topics: Personality psychology, Psychology, Personality type Pages: 5 (1828 words) Published: December 5, 2011
Critically assess the part played by personality in making some individuals more prone to ill health than others.

Health is most often described as being about the absence of illness or disease. However, health is not simply about physical symptoms, but it also encompasses our mental health and social well-being. The most common definition of health is that provided by the World Health Organisation (WHO). “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. Among the psychological factors that impact health, personality - that is stable individual differences in thinking, feeling and behaving- plays a pivotal role. For example, an individual high in a sense of coherence (SOC), therefore perceive less stress and see the world as more manageable, resulting in good health (Williams, 2010). Furthermore, the individual differences that exist in terms of the attitude the individual has towards their health and how they conceptualise their illness is very important.

Although it is a popular notion that personality traits influence the state of a persons physical health, it is difficult to establish 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 (Matthews et al., 2003). Four ways in which health status and personality might be linked have been identified by Suls and Ritterhouse, (1990). Firstly is the strongest assumptions about the importance of personality traits which represent biologically based differences that may cause different illness outcomes. Second, the relationship between traits and illness might be correlational rather than casual. Third is the possibility that traits lead to behaviours that in turn lead to illnesses e.g. smoking. Finally, illnesses may cause personality changes. Nonetheless research has tended to focus on one of these aspects at a time which may oversimplify the complete interrelationships that are likely to exist (Friedman, 2000).

The past has shown that from early times a link has almost always been made between personality and illness. Hippocrates (460-377 BC) described physical illness as being caused by the balance of bodily fluids or humours - meaning personality traits (Stelmack and Stalikas., 1992). Personality is often conceptualised as specific behavioural styles as opposed to personality disorders or personality domains. Type A, Type B, Type C and Type D are some examples of a collection of behaviour patterns that are grouped together to form a personality type. Type A personality is one of the most studied of these. It is a behaviour pattern marked by tenseness, impatience and aggressiveness, often relating in stress related symptoms such as insomnia and indigestion, and possibly increasing the risk of heart disease.

The term ‘Type A’ was developed by Friedman & Rosen man (1959), by which individuals were excessively hasty, impatient, impulsive, hyper alert, potentially hostile, and very tense - summarised basically as a “workaholic” personality. Type A personality was developed using structured interviews, however, although reliable it was labour intensive and therefore expensive. Due to this it lead to the development of the Jenkins self report measure (Jenkins et al., 1974). There were at least four major breakthrough studies of personality and cardio vascular disease PROVIDING CONFLICTING RESULTS.

The earliest success for Type A personality came from the Western Collaborative Group Study (Rosenman et al., 1975). This study followed 3, 154 initially healthy men aged between 39 & 59 years. The sample was followed up 8 ½ years later with Type A men were found to have twice as much cardiovascular disease than Type B men. Type B personalities are very laid back , patient, and take a very relaxed low-key approach to life and their job. This would...
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