Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
[M]ost people, doctors and scientists included, find it inherently easier to believe in the reality of apparently simple physical causes of disease (such as cholesterol, salt, bacteria or viruses) than to accept that mere thoughts or emotions can affect our health(Martin, 1997, p. 11)
We must now turn our attention toward describing the biological and cultural mechanisms through which psychological processes contribute to disease onset and progression.(Revenson, 1990, p. 86)
This chapter reviews factors that influence people becoming ill. We examine research investigating whether psychological factors, such as stress and personality, play any role in disease causation. The chapter also provides a review of social and environmental factors that influence becoming ill, such as social support, gender and SES. Some physiological pathways through which psychosocial factors could influence physical health are described. Finally, we present examples of research which attempt to integrate this somewhat disjointed field through meta-level theorising. By the end of this chapter you should be able to:
identify key psychological factors which influence people becoming ill;
explain how sociocultural factors, such as gender, ethnicity and SES, need to be accounted for in any account of illness causation;
provide an outline of how environments affect disease causation;
discuss the implications of traditional health psychology research on psychological factors and disease processes;
highlight the necessity for effective and integrative ‘biopsychosocial’ theorising in disease etiology.
Does stress influence health? Are people who repress their emotions more likely to develop cancer? Is there a disease-prone personality?