Physiological Pathways from Personality to Health: the Cardiovascular and Immune Systems

  • Segerstrom S
  • Smith T
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Abstract

Among psychosocial factors, personality has the greatest potential to contribute to the diseases responsible for the most mortality in the Western world, including cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Unlike the causes of death that predominated in earlier centuries, such as acute infectious disease, these disorders develop over long periods of time. For example, by the time cancer is clinically detectable, years or decades have passed from development of the first cancer cell; the process of gene mutation that led to that cell may have occurred over a period of decades before that. Formation of atherosclerotic plaques, likewise, takes place over a period of decades before those plaques lead to clinical consequences such as heart attack or stroke. Plaques are evident before 20 years of age and progress rapidly through the 20s and 30s, even though individuals do not display signs of coronary heart disease (CHD) or cerebrovascular disease until later adulthood. The time course of these diseases suggests that psychosocial factors that are consistently present over long periods will have the largest influence on disease progression. Of course, thoughts, emotions, or behaviors that are consistent over long periods of time are the very definition of personality. In some cases, the pathway from personality (e.g., conscientiousness) to behavior (e.g., exercise) to disease (e.g., heart disease) appears obvious. In other cases, however, it is not as clear how personality gets from its home in the central nervous system to affect disease in the periphery. In this chapter, we will review evidence that personality is related to two organ systems, the cardiovascular and immune systems, that are potential physiological pathways from personality to health and disease. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2007 APA, all rights reserved)

Author-supplied keywords

  • Heart attack
  • Immune systems
  • Lymphocytes
  • Personality
  • Phagocytose

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