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Researchers Explore the Link Between Personality Traits, Health

— January 5, 2024

While there’s some truth to age-old adages about personalities, not all hold up.

Exploring the intricate relationship between mental and physical health gained significant attention in the 1970s, primarily focused on identifying personality traits that might contribute to various health conditions.  During this period, there were claims linking certain personality types to ailments, such as “striving, dominant, and obsessional” individuals being associated with peptic ulcers, and the inflammatory bowel disease ulcerative colitis being more prevalent in those deemed “intelligent, competitive, and highly strung.”

While much of this psychologizing has fallen out of favor, the concept that personality can influence health outcomes persists.

One enduring idea from this era is the Type A personality, first described by American heart specialist Dr. Meyer Friedman. Characterized by traits like “time urgency” and “free-floating hostility,” this personality type was initially associated with a fivefold increase in the risk of heart attacks.

The suggested mechanism involved heightened stress hormones, specifically catecholamines produced by the adrenal glands, leading to increased heart rate and blood pressure, ultimately compromising blood flow to the heart muscle.

However, recent research has delved into the potential protective effects of different personality traits. A study involving nearly half a million participants assessed psychological profiles based on five proxy measures of personality: sociability, warmth, curiosity, diligence, and neuroticism.

Researchers Explore the Link Between Personality Traits, Health
Photo by Viktoria Slowikowska from Pexels

The results reinforced observations made by Dr. Friedman, with individuals scoring high for antagonism and irritability showing a higher susceptibility to circulatory problems. On the other hand, sociability and warmth exhibited stronger protective effects. Notably, the trait with the most significant protective impact was “diligence,” characterized by self-discipline, caution, and persistence.

While the authors of the study emphasize caution in interpreting these findings, the notion that positive personality traits might contribute to better health challenges the conventional focus on negative associations. This sheds light on the complex interplay between mental dispositions and physical well-being, offering a more nuanced understanding of how personality influences health outcomes.

In a contemporary context, the pitfalls of modern narcissism are evident in the perils of selfie culture. The recent incident in Venice, where tourists were thrown out of a gondola while attempting the perfect selfie, exemplifies the dangers associated with this trend.

Shockingly, selfies have been implicated in almost 400 fatalities between 2008 and 2021, often involving drowning or falls from significant heights. This rise in selfie-related accidents can be attributed, in part, to the dynamics of social media platforms.

The quest for online validation through metrics like follower counts, likes, and comments drives individuals to seek attention-grabbing and potentially hazardous selfie locations. The more dramatic and dangerous the setting, the higher the likelihood of the image going viral, contributing to a disturbing trend of fatalities.

Addressing this issue requires thoughtful consideration of preventive measures. While discussions about warning signs and restricted selfie zones are underway, leveraging the technology embedded in smartphones could be a straightforward solution. Using GPS data to trigger alerts at dangerous selfie hotspots might serve as a practical way to deter individuals from engaging in risky behavior for the sake of social media recognition.


The link between personality traits and your health isn’t all bad news

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