Personality and Disease

BioPsychoSocial_Health.jpgAn Indian sage said some 4000 years ago, “There are two classes of disease–bodily and mental. Each arises from the other. Neither can exist without the other. Mental disorders arise from physical ones, and likewise, physical disorders arise from mental ones.” The debate between duality and unity of the mind and body has been going on for centuries. Most conventional medical practitioners treat disease symptoms or the organisms. But others believe in treating the person rather than the disease. They consider that factors such as stress, personality, and the environment play a role in the development of a disease.

In recent years, a belief has been growing that personality and coronary heart disease are linked in some way. Scientists have carried out several studies to demonstrate a connection between diseases and personality, especially a person’s ability to react to stress. In a study published in BioPsychoSocial Medicine, Flaa et al. (2007) selected 87 men from the 1st, 50th, and 99th percentiles of a blood pressure screening. The researchers assessed fifteen personality traits using the Karolinska Scales of Personality and recorded patients’ cardiovascular and catecholamine responses to mental arithmetic stress test (MST) and cold pressor test (CPT). Their findings indicated that cardiovascular and catecholamine stress reactivity depended on the type of personality, without any single trait being dominant. The results clearly indicated how certain personality traits like detachment, distress and inhibition of emotions had an exaggerated response to a cardiovascular stress test, which in turn is an indicator of future morbidity and mortality.

Two very important questions follow these studies. Can we reduce our susceptibility to disease by learning to manage stress more efficiently? Also, can psychological treatment prolong the life of individuals suffering from cancer or heart disease?

The answer to both these questions is yes. It is possible to teach people how to cope with stress and express their anger in a socially acceptable way. Grossarth-Maticek developed a behavior therapy method in which the goal is to make disease-prone individuals realize the drawbacks of their responses and replace them with healthier responses. In all the his studies, the survivors from the therapy group outnumbered the survivors from the control group by more than two to one.

These studies indicate a need for a new and a more holistic approach to treating patients. This kind of preventive care could be much cheaper than treating a full-blown disease.


Arnljot Flaa, Oivind Ekeberg, Sverre Erik Kjeldsen, and Morten Rosturp. Personality may influence reactivity to stress. BioPsychoSocial Medicine 2007, 1:5

Hans Eysenck and Michael Eysenck. Mind Watching. Prion Books Ltd 1995

Shamala Pulugurtha, MS

Shamala Pulugurtha, MS, has worked with Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army and Pragathi Institute for the mentally challenged based in India.
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