Can your personality really reveal anything about your health?
It sounds like the kind of psychobabble you would find in a teen magazine — along with how to choose the man, job and dress to best match your character type.
But, in fact, there is evidence to suggest that certain characteristics may influence your health.
‘Personalities are a result of both genes and the environment,’ explains Dr Martin Hagger, a health psychologist at the University of Nottingham and Curtin University, Australia.
‘Knowing you fall into one specific camp doesn’t immediately mean you’re going to develop heart disease, for instance, but it should wake you up to the risk and, as a result, give you the opportunity to recognise and target the less healthy aspects of your character — such as smoking or drinking.’
Here, we take a light-hearted look at common personality types and the health conditions associated with them.
They may always have a half-full view of life, but optimists are also more likely to be overweight. Researchers from Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan, and other centres, assessed obese men and women undergoing a six-month weight-loss programme involving counselling, nutrition and exercise.
The researchers found that those who were most positive lost the least weight. It’s thought that looking on the bright side led to patients not caring about their weight problem and always giving into temptation.
Similarly, their confidence about their ability to defeat life’s difficulties and willingness, therefore, to take more risks might explain why happy types are also more likely to die young, found a major University of California study.
Psychologist Dr Howard S. Friedman analysed data on more than 1,500 children from the age of ten and followed them into adulthood.
He said: ‘Those who had the best sense of humour as kids lived shorter lives, on average, than those who were less cheerful.’
Another study at Stanford University found that most cheerful kids grew up to smoke, drink more and have riskier hobbies.
Researchers at Descartes University, Paris, and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto, have found that needy personalities are five times more likely to develop stomach ulcers.
Dependent, emotionally unstable types may be more likely to smoke and drink, have irregular eating habits and sleep problems — which all lead to higher than normal rates of stomach acid production, triggering the ulcers.
High levels of the stress hormone cortisol can also trigger headaches, acne and bladder infections.
The good news? Anxious people have more sex, according to a Sheffield University study.
Dr Virpi Lummaa, from the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, says: ‘Women who are highly neurotic tend to have more short-term sexual partners, suggesting a link between their sex drive and personality trait.’
It may be that their fear of not finding the right person or failing to reproduce leads them to have more sex with more partners.
Men who are more like women — sympathetic and compassionate — have lower stress levels and are less likely to have heart attacks, found research at Glasgow University.
In the study men were given a ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ score based on traits such as leadership ability, forcefulness, aggression and risk-taking for the former, and sympathy, affection, compassion and sensitivity to the needs of others for the latter.
Researchers found a man’s likelihood of suffering from chronic heart disease markedly decreased in line with his femininity score. They said being in touch with their feelings meant these ‘new men’ were more able to talk about their emotions and get help — including going to the doctor.
Hostile, aggressive behaviour is one of the least healthy personality traits to have.
In a study of 448 women attending breast-screening centres, researchers at the Oncological Hospital of Kifissia, Athens, found hostile types were more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer.
Another study of 61 men with colon cancer at the Creighton University School of Medicine, Nebraska, found the same increased risk. It’s thought that hostility and anger dampens the effectiveness of the immune system, possibly making it more susceptible to disease.
Being angry also brings a 50 per cent increase in the chance of poor heart health, say researchers at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.
Angry people respond more quickly and strongly to stress, mentally and physiologically, increasing blood pressure and heart rate — causing more wear and tear to the cardiovascular system.
Extrovert men are less likely to get heart disease, according to a Milan University study.
They are also less prone to infections and more likely to recover from disease.
This may be down to reduced levels of stress hormones — extroverts are better are coping with what life throws at them. And if they think they have a medical problem, they’re likely to speak up.
Extrovert men are also more likely to have lots of children.
Physically they aren’t believed to be more fertile — these party animals simply go out more and so have 14 per cent more children than their less extrovert peers, say University of Sheffield researchers.
Shy types are 50 per cent more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke. Researchers at Chicago’s Northwestern University who carried out the 30-year study, believe this may be because wallflowers lead more sheltered lives and so find new situations more stressful.
Shy types are also more vulnerable to viral infections, such as the common cold — whatever time of year it may be — according to research from the University of California, with stress once again playing a key role.
‘It seems like sensitive people are simply wired to respond to stress more strongly than resilient people,’ says Bruce Naliboff, one of the research authors.
A low IQ is correlated with greater risk of anxiety, late-onset dementia and post-traumatic stress disorder, say researchers at the University of Edinburgh.
Furthermore, a Harvard School of Public Health study on children with low IQ found there was also an increased risk of depression and schizophrenia.
One theory is simple: people with low intelligence have a harder time understanding the importance of healthy living.
Low childhood IQ may also indicate that not all is well with the general health of the brain in the first place, increasing vulnerability to certain mental health disorders.
As you’d expect, people who are conscientious reap enormous benefits healthwise, say researchers at the University of Edinburgh and the Social and Public Health Sciences Unit in Glasgow.
They are less likely to develop all kinds of illnesses: diabetes, hernia, bone problems, sciatica, stroke — even Alzheimer’s.
The review of more than 190 studies showed that conscientious people consistently carry out more health-promoting behaviours, such as exercising and eating a healthy diet.