Do highly stressed or angry people get more ulcers and stress related back issues?
The consensus is mixed. People who develop these problems have a wide range of personalities and lifestyle / psychological states – some are highly stressed, others are calm, collected and contented.
What about chronic ailments such as cancer and heart disease?
Some studies suggest that pessimists or introverts are at higher risk, others suggest that optimists or extroverts are just as likely to suffer from dread disease. Research into the relationship between personality traits and illness has been the subject of many studies over the years – and there seems to be a mixed bag of results.
It’s all a bit complicated. First, “personality types” are constructs by researchers and don’t necessarily correlate well with what is going on with people in the real world. What’s more, dozens of overlapping traits, in various permutations, have been studied. There are countless ways to measure them, plus many theories of personality that use different terms and concepts. Most people don’t fit neatly into one description and ‘personality types’ may change over time. Also, a link between a personality trait and a disease doesn’t mean that one is causing the other.
So what are the personality types?
There’s a long history in psychology of attempting to classify personality types. But only fairly recently have health-related personality types been developed.
The first was the Type A personality. The theory went that people with this personality, who were aggressive, competitive, tense, impatient and quite often hostile were at higher risk for heart disease. This was based on the results of studies on men. For years this was treated as absolutely correct, but the latest research does not confirm the initial findings, and including women casts even further doubt on the results.
Still, certain Type A traits such as chronic hostility/anger and cynicism/mistrust may well be linked to heart problems. There was a 2010 English review of studies which concluded that anger and hostility predict heart disease in healthy people and poor prognosis in cardiac patients.
People with Type B personality are the polar opposite of Type A. People who exhibit personality traits associated with Type B are calm, cheery, cooperative, patient, easy-going individuals. These traits may make you a more pleasant person, but there’s no clear evidence it will keep you healthy.
It was once thought that the Type C personality which is usually passive and often exhibits feelings of helplessness, while attempting to help people all the time was at increased risk of cancer. That could conceivably be true if when presented with bad health news, such people passively accept their prognosis and don’t follow through with treatment or even check with their doctor. It’s tempting to think that these traits would not be conducive to good health, but again there’s no solid evidence one way or the other.
The newest characterisation is a Type D personality. D for distressed. These folk are irritable, anxious and worried, with a very negative view of the world. They tend to be socially inhibited, insecure and easily stressed. Several studies have implicated Type D in an array of cardiovascular risk factors and poor general health. But, of course, in a few years the concept of Type D may seem as outmoded.