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Individual Differences in Stress

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Individual Differences in Stress

Have you ever taken a personality test? Did it teach you something new about yourself?

We are all unique, and our personalities are complex and multidimensional; there is no doubt about that. However, we can observe behaviour patterns and notice individual differences in people. Different people react differently when confronted with the same (even stressful) situations.

Several studies in psychology have examined this phenomenon of individual and cultural differences in stress response. By assessing different personality types, researchers observed the different reactions to stress and the physical effects of stress. Let us see what they found.

Starting at ground zero: What is a personality, anyway?

A personality is a combination of cognitive, emotional, and behavioural characteristics. Simply put, personality is all about how we think, feel, and act when we interact with the world or our environment. Interestingly, each of us differs in one way or another in each personality trait.

Our personality can remain stable over time, but because of the inherent individual differences, psychologists have proposed different personality types and associated traits.

What are the types of personality in psychology?

Friedman and Rosenman studied the behavioural patterns of patients suffering from heart disease in the 1960s and established two main personality types: A and B (the complete opposite of personality A). Temoshok (1987) later revealed personality C (with typical characteristics of type A and B) when studying the relationship between personality types and physical illness. Below are three personality types with their associated behaviours.

Individual Differences in Stress People may have varying traits and personalities StudySmarter

People may have varying traits and personalities because of individual differences, Flaticon

Personality A

  • Competitive and ambitious character: focused and determined, seeking advancement.
  • Time pressure and impatience: physically and mentally active, multitasking, fast-talking, optimising time, less creative activities like hobbies.
  • Hostile and aggressive: inflexible nature, easily irritable, short-tempered.

Personality B

  • Non-competitive: not very goal-oriented, usually work at their own pace, fluctuating focus.
  • Relaxed and calm: pursues one thing at a time, relaxed attitude, celebrates successes but does not stress when does not achieve goals.
  • Flexible and patient nature: patient temperament, tolerant, flexible approach to people, suppresses emotions.

Personality C

  • Motivated to achieve goals and passionate about accomplishing goals (Type A traits).
  • A passiveattitude: suppresses emotions, does not stress when does not achieve goals, and invests more effort in pleasing people (Type B).
  • Resistant to unwanted change.

Personality and stress individual differences in the stress process

We will now look at two research studies examining the link between stress and personality types.

  • Study 1: Friedman and Rosenman (1974) examined the relationship between stress-related illness and personality types. A longitudinal study was conducted on 3200 male subjects from San Francisco, aged 39 to 59 years. All participants were healthy (no heart disease) at the beginning of the study.
  • Participants were categorised as personality types A, B, or C based on a structured interview and their behaviour during the interview. Researchers performed scripted actions during the interview, such as interrupting the participant in the middle of a conversation or being aggressive toward the participant. This study served to make it easier to determine the personality types.

Findings: All participants enrolled in the second phase of the study after eight years. About 257 participants suffered from coronary heart disease, 70% of whom were personality type A. High blood pressure and high cholesterol levels were more likely to be observed in type A than B.

Conclusion: Personality type A was more prone to develop coronary heart disease, mainly due to stress.

Individual Differences in Stress Specific personality types can have increased stress and thus physical diseases StudySmarter

Specific personality types can have increased stress and thus physical diseases, Flaticon
  • Study 2: Dattore et al. (1980) examined the relationship between personality types and stress-related illness. Two hundred retired army personnel who had served in the Vietnam War completed a questionnaire scale measuring symptoms of depression and suppression of feelings.

Findings: About 75 participants with type C personality traits developed cancer. All of these participants showed fewer depression symptoms but greater repression of feelings.

Conclusion: Type C personalities appear to be more prone to developing stress-related reactions such as cancer.

Evaluation of the types of personality and individual differences in the stress process

Several researchers have echoed Friedman and Rosenman’s study. Matthew and Haynes (1996) concluded that hostility is closely related to the development of coronary heart disease.

Dembroski et al. (1989) reexamined the findings of Matthew and Haynes. They concluded that coronary heart disease was more likely to be predicted by the trait of hostility in personality type A. Carmelli (1991) followed up the participants of Friedman and Rosenman (1974) and found that participants with high hostility died of coronary heart disease.

The results cannot be generalised to the general public because of gender bias. Friedman and Rosenman (1974) concluded the study from a sample consisting of only male participants, while women may have a different way of dealing with stress.

Friedman and Rosenman (1974) did not determine strictly which personality type A trait was related to the development of coronary heart disease.

Personality types are limited to only three categories. People can have different personality types that may combine traits from each personality type along the continuum.

Personality types can result from the environment in which the person grew up. For example, being exposed to 20 years of persistent struggles and stressful situations may result in personality type A.

What is hardiness in psychology?

Hardiness is a group of traits or characteristics that enable a person to combat psychological stress without becoming physically ill.

Hardy people strive for growth in the face of difficult times and view stressful situations as a challenge to overcome rather than an obstacle.

Individual differences in stress, a person needs three C's to qualify as a hardy personality, StudySmarterA person needs three C's to qualify as a hardy personality, Flaticon

What are the three characteristics of hardiness?

Kobassa and Maddi (1979) proposed the three C’s of a personality. These act as a defence system against the adverse effects of stress.

Commitment

  • People have a strong sense of purpose.

  • They are strongly committed to interacting with people and the environment.

Control

  • People believe they can influence the world through their efforts.

  • People with a high level of control feel responsible for the events in their lives; feeling helpless is out of the question.

  • People believe that they can gain knowledge through their struggles by leaving their comfort zone.

  • They view stressful events as a potential gain (growth) on a personal level.

  • They view everything as a challenge.

Kobassa and Maddi’s (1979) research study

  • Kobassa et al. (1979) conducted a longitudinal study of 800 American executives (all male). They were interested in studying the executives who faced highly stressful events and performance difficulties. They used Rahe and Homes scale, the SRRS (Social Readjustment Rating Scale), to measure stress levels instead of stressful events.
  • They asked subjects about previous episodes of illness or disease. Approximately 150 participants had high SRRS scores. Of these participants, 75 had a history of high stress and more illness, while 86 participants had a history of high stress but less illness.

Findings: This study suggests that there may be a moderating factor that cushions the effects of stress in the second group. To conclude from the study results, participants had to take some personality tests that included measuring the characteristics of hardiness after three months.

  • The group of participants with high levels of stress but low levels of illness scored high on all three traits of resilience.

  • The participants with high-stress levels and high illness scores scored low on all three resilience traits.

Conclusion: A hardy personality is resistant to stressful events in life and can maintain a defence mechanism that helps it withstand the effects of stress better than others.

Evaluation of Hardiness

Further research supports the findings of Kobassa et al. (1979). Lifton et al. (2006) conducted a study of American university students examining the role of robust personality traits in their degree completion, considering stress as an underlying factor. They found that students who scored low on the hardiness scales were more likely to be dropouts, while students with high scores on the hardiness traits were more likely to complete their studies.

The study does not provide a cause and effect relationship. The conclusion is based on a correlation between hardiness and stress. External variables such as life experiences, a nurturing environment (parenting style), or support from family or friends may play a role.

The studies are not generalisable to all members of society, such as women or cross-culturally to people from other cultures. The samples of most studies were male participants and of American origin.

The results might be more relevant to a particular social class. The Kobassa study looked at managers with privileged lifestyles, such as better salaries, vacations, and living conditions than the working class or unemployed.s. Results might differ when such factors are considered.

Application

According to researchers, people can learn hardiness through practice and therapies. Research on hardiness gave rise to therapies and hardiness training that teach people to see stressful events as challenges rather than difficult obstacles.

Individual Differences in Stress - Key takeaways

  • We can study individual differences between people using personality types A, B, C, and hardy personalities.

  • A personality is all about how we think, feel, and act when interacting with the world or environment.

  • Psychologists have proposed different personality types and associated traits based on inherent individual differences.

  • Competitiveness, impatience, and hostility characterise personality A; personality B is the opposite of personality A; personality C is a combination of types A and B.

  • Personality types are limited to only three categories. People can have different personality types that combine traits from each personality type along the continuum.

  • Carmelli (1991) followed the participants of the Friedman and Rosenman’s (1974) study and found that participants high in hostility (type A) died of coronary heart disease.

  • Hardiness is a group of characteristics or traits that enable a person to combat psychological stress without falling prey to physical illness.

  • Kobassa and Maddi (1979) proposed the three C’s in a personality that act as a defence system against the adverse effects of stress.

  • Commitment means that people have a strong sense of purpose; challenge means that they see everything as a challenge; control implies that people feel they control every situation in their lives.

  • The studies are not generalisable to all members of society, such as women or cross-culturally to people from other cultures. Since the samples of the studies were male and American.

  • Lifton et al. (2006) supported the Kobassa et al. (1979) study.

Frequently Asked Questions about Individual Differences in Stress

Stress levels differ between individuals because of individual differences in personality traits. Some personality types have more sensitivity towards stress's effects than other people.

The three personality types are A (competitive and hostile), B (non-competitive, relaxed, and flexible) and C (competitive but calm attitude).

Personality behaviours are the actions that an individual performs, such as working long hours to finish the project deadline exhaustively.

Hardiness is a group of traits or characteristics that enable a person to combat psychological stress without becoming physically ill.

Hardiness implies undergoing hardship and stressors on one's ability and strength, whereas resilience means absorbing the energy from stressors and coming out of it with some external help.

Three components of hardiness are commitment (a strong drive to accomplish or achieve goals), challenge (the ability to accept stressful situations as challenges rather than stressors) and control (the belief of having control over the events in life).

Final Individual Differences in Stress Quiz

Question

How is personality defined in the literature of psychology?

Show answer

Answer

A personality is a combination of cognitive, emotional, and behavioural characteristics. Simply put, personality is all about how we think, feel, and act when we interact with the world or our environment.

Show question

Question

Which researcher proposed the type A personality?

Show answer

Answer

Friedman and Rosenman (1974).

Show question

Question

True or false: Personality type C is similar to type A.

Show answer

Answer

False; type C is a combination of both type A and B.

Show question

Question

What are the main characteristics and associated behaviours of type A personality?

Show answer

Answer

  • Competitive and ambitious character: focused and determined, seeking advancement.
  • Time pressure and impatience: physically and mentally active, multitasking, fast-talking, optimising time, less creative activities like hobbies.
  • Hostile and aggressive: inflexible nature, easily irritable, short-tempered.

Show question

Question

What are the main characteristics and associated behaviours of type B personality?

Show answer

Answer

  • Non-competitive: not very goal-oriented, usually work at their own pace, fluctuating focus.
  • Relaxed and calm: pursues one thing at a time, relaxed attitude, celebrates successes but does not stress when does not achieve goals.
  • Flexible and patient nature: patient temperament, tolerant, flexible approach to people, suppresses emotions.

Show question

Question

What were the findings of Friedman and Rosenman (1974)?

Show answer

Answer

About 257 participants suffered from coronary heart disease, 70% of whom were personality type A. High blood pressure and high cholesterol levels were more likely to be observed in type A than B.

Show question

Question

Which characteristic was the most important in causing coronary heart disease?

Show answer

Answer

Hostility trait in type A personality was most important in causing coronary heart disease.

Show question

Question

Provide an argument against the research of  Friedman and Rosenman (1974).

Show answer

Answer

  • Personality types are limited to only three categories. People can have different personality types that combine traits from each personality type along the continuum.
  • Personality types can result from the environment in which the person grew up. For example, being exposed to 20 years of persistent struggles and stressful situations may result in personality type A.

Show question

Question

Define a hardy personality.

Show answer

Answer

A hardy personality is a group of traits or characteristics that enable a person to combat psychological stress without becoming physically ill.

Show question

Question

Define the hardiness trait of control.

Show answer

Answer

  • People believe they can influence the world through their efforts.
  • People with a high level of control feel responsible for the events in their lives; feeling helpless is out of the question.

Show question

Question

What was a pre-test conducted to measure the link between hardiness personality and stress-related illness?

Show answer

Answer

The subjects were interviewed about any episodes of illness or disease they suffered through before.

Show question

Question

Provide supportive research evidence for Kobassa et al. (1979).

Show answer

Answer

Lifton et al. (2006) conducted a study of American university students examining the role of robust personality traits in their degree completion, considering stress as an underlying factor. They found that students who scored low on the hardiness scales were more likely to be dropouts, while students with high scores on the hardiness traits were more likely to complete their studies.

Show question

Question

What were the findings of Kobassa et al. (1979)?

Show answer

Answer

  • The group of participants with high levels of stress but low levels of illness scored high on all three traits of resilience.
  • The participants with high-stress levels and high illness scores scored low on all three resilience traits.

Show question

Question

Which scale did Kobassa et al. use to measure participants' stress levels?

Show answer

Answer

They used Rahe and Homes scale, the SRRS (Social Readjustment Rating Scale).

Show question

Question

Provide criticism of the Kobassa et al. study.

Show answer

Answer

The study does not provide a cause and effect relationship. The conclusion is based on a correlation between hardiness and stress. External variables such as life experiences, a nurturing environment (parenting style), or support from family or friends may play a role.

Show question

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