It is a popular notion that personality traits may influence the state of a person's physical health. The image of the stressed, aggressive businessman being liable to have a heart attack is so common as to have become a cliché, yet, as we shall see, it has little evidential basis. If personality traits do influence health, then this is one of the prime reasons to measure personality traits in medical settings. However, there are difficulties in establishing 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. In addition, it is virtually impossible to assess the amount of risk that personality traits pose on their own – the separate impact they might have over and above that of poverty or working conditions, for example. The best solution is to try to design studies and use statistical analyses that are appropriate to the study of complex interactions. In this chapter we first discuss models of personality and health, then go on to describe more specific areas such as personality, stress and heart disease. Finally, we briefly discuss the connection between personality and clinically defined ‘psychosomatic’ disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome and globus pharyngis.
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