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How is Personality linked to Health? - Seniors Long Term Care & Nursing Home Issues - SeniorSite.com
How is Personality linked to Health? - Seniors Long Term Care & Nursing Home Issues - SeniorSite.com
How is Personality linked to Health?
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Dr Jodee Beth Graifman Meddy DO, Dubois, PA Dr. Jodee Graifman Meddy, DO, MS, LNHA

Co-founder of SeniorSite.com.
Dr. Jodee Meddy is a nationally acclaimed Doctor, Licensed Nursing Home Administrator and an expert on Long Term / Extended Care issues and Nursing Homes.

How is Personality linked to Health? - SeniorSite.com This is a question that has kept researchers busy for the past twenty-five years. Two early conceptualizations of the personality-health link used the concept of 'hardiness' and the 'Type A / Type B' personality distinction.

Type A and Type B Personalities:

In 1974 Friedman and Rosenman formulated a set of personality factors considered to typify the 'Type A' personality. This was considered to include impatience, greater competitiveness, aggressiveness, always feeling under time pressure, and often experiencing some hostility. The behaviors through which these traits were expressed were over work; increased work intensity; and the feeling of greater mental strain. Type B personalities, on the other hand, would not show these personality traits.

Hardiness:

In 1979 Kobasa coined the concept of 'hardiness', or the 'hardy personality' to describe a particular type of personality that was seen to reduce the effects of stress on health. Hardy people are considered to have control over events in their lives; feel committed to social relations, to society and to themselves; and would tend to view change as a challenge rather than as a threat. Particular personality traits linked to hardiness are endurance, strength, courageousness and the ability to exercise authority or influence.

These conceptualizations established the link between personality and health - but did not immediately explain HOW this link was established.

The HOW has been explained in two stages:

Early research into the health-personality association focused on the direct effect of personality traits, suggesting a link between physiology and personality. For instance, it was found that people who worried a lot tended to get ulcers and workaholics tended to get heart attacks. The link might work something like this: Worry causes an overactive digestive system. Too much digestive juice in the stomach erodes away at the stomach lining, causing ulcers. Or, anger and aggression increase the pulse rate and blood pressure, which puts people at risk of heart attacks.

However, this does not offer us any guidance for lifestyle change. If personality is considered to be stable and difficult to change, does this mean that we can not do much to change our health status? Also, it is not always clear which way around the link works: Does personality influence health or does health status influence personality? It is probably a bit of both.



But looking at the influence of personality on health:
 


A second wave of research has focused on the indirect link between personality and health through behaviors such as smoking, doing risky things, monitoring personal health, eating a healthy diet/overeating and doing regular exercise. Behaviors are determined by values, attitudes and beliefs. These might include attitudes about how important health is and beliefs about how much personal control we have in improving our health. Attitudes, values and beliefs are possibly shaped by personality traits. In particular, researchers have found that five personality traits promote health behaviors:

  • Extroversion (being outgoing and sociable)
     
  • Agreeableness (being kind and trusting)
     
  • Conscientiousness (being organized and thorough)
     
  • Emotional stability (being calm and even-tempered)
     
  • Openness to experience (being imaginative and intelligent).


One of the more well-known studies in this area has found that people who are conscientious and dependable tend to live the longest. This includes people who were considered to be prudent, who think before acting, are truthful and free from vanity. The researchers suggest that these people are capable to better 'self-management'.

While this does not amount to much in the way of concrete advice for health improvement, it is interesting. In our own lives we are always trying to understand others' personalities and are intrigued by feedback on how others perceive us.

Information about how psychologists have approached the subject of personality measurement gives us the vocabulary and some of the tools for describing and understanding ourselves and others around us. However, it must be remembered that psychological measures of personality are not the last word on who you are. They are deficient in a number of respects: the measures are not completely reliable - there are factors that can influence how you respond to questions presented in different formats or on different days; and there is the argument that personality can not be summed up in numbers or categories.
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