Continuing the tradition of the early Greek and Roman physicians, modern personality theorists have often noted that certain personality characteristics seem to be associated with a propensity to develop illness, or even specific illnesses. Other personality characteristics appear to reduce vulnerability to illness. One of the best-known examples of a case in which personality characteristics affect health is that of the Type A behavior pattern (or Type A personality). The person identified as a Type A personality typically displays a pattern of behaviors which includes easily aroused hostility, excessive competitiveness, and a pronounced sense of time urgency. Research suggests that hostility is the most damaging of these behaviors. Type A personalities typically display hyperreactivity to stressful situations, with a corresponding slow return to the baseline of arousal. The hostile Type A personality is particularly prone to coronary heart disease. By contrast, the less driven Type B personality does not display the hostility, competitiveness, and time urgency of the Type A personality and is about half as likely to develop coronary heart disease.
Studies conducted in the 1970's and 1980's led to the suggestion that there is a Type C, or cancer-prone, personality. Although the role of personality characteristics is heavily debated in terms of the development of cancer, various characteristics related to stress have been found to suppress the immune system, thereby making an individual more vulnerable to some cancers. Personality characteristics have therefore also been found to be somewhat influential in the course of the disease. It is well known that many natural and artificial substances produce cancer, but many researchers have also noted that people with certain personality characteristics are more likely to develop cancer, are more likely to develop fast-growing cancers, and are less likely to survive their cancers, whatever the cause. These personality characteristics include repression of strong negative emotions, acquiescence in the face of stressful life situations, inhibition, depression, and hopelessness. Encounters with uncontrollable stressful events appear to be particularly related to the development or course of cancer. In addition, some research suggests that not having strong social support systems may contribute to the development or affect the outcome of cancer.
Research has begun to focus on the possible interaction among risk factors for cancer. For example, depressed smokers are many more times likely to develop smoking-related cancers than are either nondepressed smokers or depressed nonsmokers. One theory suggests that the smoking provides exposure to the carcinogenic substance that initiates the cancer, and depression promotes its development.
It has been suggested that hardiness is a broad, positive personality variable that affects one's propensity for developing stress-related illness. Hardiness is made up of three more specific characteristics: commitment (becoming involved in things that are going on around oneself), challenge (accepting the need for change and seeing new opportunities for growth in what others see as problems), and control (believing that one's actions determine what happens in life and that one can have an effect on the environment). It has been hypothesized that people who possess these characteristics are less likely to develop stress-related disorders because they view stressful situations more favorably than do other people. Commitment and control seem to be more influential in promoting health. Locus ofcontrol is a related concept which has received much attention.
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