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Neuroticism and stress vulnerability

This job correlates how personality traits affect health. What models have been developed to explain associations between personality and health? What is the Type A personality and how may it affect health?

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Personality and Health

Neuroticism (N) is the trait most strongly and consistently related to stress symptoms of various kinds. Clinical patients suffering from depression or anxiety show elevated levels of N (Eynsenck & Eynsenck, 1985).

Individuals with high N are also more sensitive to adverse emotional reactions to the hassles and upsets of everyday life. Bolger & Schilling (1991) found that arguments with a spouse or another adult were generally the most stressful events in people lives. People with high N found such fights particularly distressing. Reactions to the lesser stressor of overload were also accentuated in higher N subjects.

The association between stress-proneness and N is also apparent in other measures of everyday functioning. High N subjects report that they are more prone to cognitive failures: everyday errors such as switching on a kettle without filling it with water (Matthews, 1990). High N car drivers are also more prone to stress in the form of anger, irritation, anxiety and a lack of confidence (Glendon, 1991).

N is also reported to be associated with difficulties in relationships and interacting with other people. N seems to predispose people to marriage problems (O'Leary & Smith, 1991) and to shyness.

Personality and Health

It is a popular notion that personality traits may influence the state of a person's physical health. If personality traits do influence health, than this will become one of the prime claims to usefulness and validity. However, it is essential to distinguish between objective and subjective symptoms of illness, and to consider the problem of causality.

Models of the association between personality and health

Suls & Rittenhouse (1990) suggest there are 4 ways in which health status and personality might be linked.

1. The first possibility makes the strongest assumptions about the importance of personality traits; traits may represent biologically based differences that partly cause different illness outcomes. For example if N represents differentially sensitive autonomic responsivity, than one might expect disorders such as hypertension, which are under autonomic control, to be related to N differences.

2. Secondly, the relationship between traits and illness might be correlational rather than causal; for instance the same biological processes might underline traits and illness outcomes without either being causally related to each other.

3. Thirdly, it is possible that traits lead to behaviour, which in turn, lead to health differences. If certain personality traits dispose people to take up dangerous hobbies like taking dangerous drugs, then an indirect association between personality and health might be established.

4. Fourthly, illness may cause personality changes; any trait difference between groups suffering from an illness and matched controls could be caused by an illness-induced change in personality. A chronic ...