Can Hostile Personality Traits Lead to Health Problems?

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In short, yes, but it is more complicated than it seems.

angry driverIt has been long argued that hostility leads to health problems, but to some it seems far-fetched that a personality trait could really be capable of having long term effects on one’s well-being. This article aims to explore the belief that those with hostile personalities are more prone to health problems, especially cardiac related issues.

In their 2004 literature review published in the Journal of Personality, Smith and colleagues found that hostility was not only associated with coronary heart disease, but also with premature mortality.  They defined hostility as “a devaluation of the worth and motives of others, an expectation that others are likely sources of wrong-doing, a relational view of being in opposition toward others, and a desire to inflict harm or see others harmed.’’  Their review found that hostility is not only associated with developing coronary heart disease, but that it also affects the severity of the disease. Research has shown increased recurrent myocardial infractions in women who had higher levels of hostility.  Men with increased levels of hostility, who had already experienced a cardiovascular event, showed risks of cardiovascular death five times higher than those with lower levels of hostility.

Hostility has also been associated with health issues in younger generations. In their 2003 study published in Health Psychology, Räikkönen and colleagues found a correlation between hostility and the risk for metabolic syndrome in children and adolescents. Metabolic syndrome, which they defined as, “having at least two risk factors above the 75th percentile of the distributions of scores for the same age, ethnicity, and gender groups” including BMI and Insulin Resistance was assessed initially and also at a three-year follow up.  Their study found that children who had high levels of hostility were more likely to have metabolic syndrome during their follow-up.  Räikkönen and colleagues outlined the importance of evaluating behavioral risks as a means for early intervention and prevention.

Although there is ample research to support the link between hostility and coronary heart disease, there may be factors aside from hostility that play a role in this link (I told you it was more complicated than it seems). In a 2004 meta-analysis, Smith and colleagues also discussed other potential reasons for the link between hostility and coronary heart disease. They suggested that the correlation could potentially be due to hostile people having a less healthy lifestyle. A third-factor variable, in this case an unhealthy lifestyle, would then be the cause for the link between hostility and coronary heart disease. They also point out that hostility is not the only thing linked to coronary heart disease; depression and lower socio-economic status are linked to the disease as well.

Although not all research supports the link between higher levels of hostility and coronary heart disease, most researchers agree upon the notion that cognitive and behavioral interventions can help to reduce anger and hostility. One specific way to help reduce hostility is to forgive more. Nava Silton and colleagues (2013) found a negative correlation between forgiveness and hostility in their study published in the Journal of Adult Development. That is, when forgiveness increases, hostility decreases. Whatever the method may be, it is important to decrease hostile behavior early in life in order to lessen the likelihood of developing coronary heart disease or other health related problems.

By Nermana Turajlic
Nermana is a senior majoring in Psychology and minoring in Human Development. She plans on graduating in December 2016 and attending graduate school the following year.

Räikkönen, K., Matthews, K. A., & Salomon, K. (2003). Hostility predicts metabolic syndrome risk factors in children and adolescents. Health Psychology, 22, 279-286.

Silton, N. R., Flannelly, K. J., & Lutjen, L. J. (2013). It pays to forgive! Aging,             forgiveness, hostility, and health. Journal Of Adult Development, 20, 222-231.

Smith, T. W., Glazer, K., Ruiz, J. M., & Gallo, L. C. (2004). Hostility, anger,             aggressiveness, and coronary heart disease: An interpersonal perspective on             personality, emotion, and health. Journal Of Personality, 72, 1217-1270.