Thursday, May 21, 2009

Early Manifestations of Personality and Adult Health

Another study linking childhood personality to later health this time by Laura Kubzansky and colleagues in this months issue of Health Psychology:

"Children with high attention reported better self-rated health and fewer illnesses as adults; more distress-prone children reported worse self-rated health and more illnesses as adults."

Studies showing personality linkages to mortality (e.g. Friedman et al., 1993) have a strong design as they use an objective outcome measure and avoid many possible confounds in self-report measures. By using self-rated health or illnesses it's always possible that what we're seeing is distress prone people complaining more and rating their health as bad and illnesses as more frequent and severe. Controlling for adult personality and health behaviours helps to specify if early personality is important due to it's link to fundamental biological processes or due to it's influence on a trajectory of personlity and behaviour over the lifespan. I didn't see this in the Kubzansky study. However, it is supported by a series of studies point to childhood distress, neuroticism, instabiliy as risk factors for later illness and premature mortality and to conscientiousness, self-regulation, dependability etc. as protective. The biggest challenge at the moment is to test the potential causal linkages that may exist between personality, life-events and health. Potential pathways are outlined well in an article by Timothy Smith in Perspectives on Psychological Science.

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