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Type D Personality, Social Relationships and Stress

A research paper on personality, social relationships and stress by Adam O’ Riordan, Prof. Stephen Gallagher and Dr Siobhán Howard was published in the Journal of Anxiety, Stress and Coping (April 2020). This paper was supported by funding from the Irish Research Council and the John and Pauline Ryan PhD Scholarship

O’Riordan, A., Howard, S., & Gallagher, S. (2020). Type D personality and life event stress: the mediating effects of social support and negative social relationships. Anxiety, Stress, & Coping, 1-14.

Type D personality is characterised by increased levels of two stable traits; negative affectivity and social inhibition. While negative affectivity refers to the tendency to experience a wide range of negative emotions (anxiety, depression, irritability, dysphoria), social inhibition refers to the tendency to inhibit the expressing these emotions. Although, Type D individuals experience these negative emotions, they tend to “bottle up” these emotions in order to avoid disapproval from others.

Over the past two-decades Type D has received considerable research attention due to its association with adverse cardiovascular health. In fact, a range of longitudinal studies have found that cardiovascular patients with Type D personality are twice as likely to experience negative cardiovascular events (eg reoccurring heart attacks) and to die from cardiovascular disease in comparison to individuals without Type D Personality.

Given that increased perceptions of life stress has been consistently implicated in the development and progression of cardiovascular diseases, our study aimed to examine if Type D personality was associated with life event stress. Furthermore, social relationships are imperative for stress appraisal and coping. While positive social relationships decrease perceptions of stress, negative social relationships increase perceptions of stress. Given the socially inhibited nature of Type D personality, a second aim of our study was to examine if these social relationships were causing the increased perception of stress amongst Type D individuals.

The results showed that Type D individuals reported having lower levels of social support and greater perceptions of negative social relationships (hostile and rejectful relationships). Secondly, while there was no difference between Type D and Non-Type D individuals on the total number of stressful life events experienced, Type D individuals reported that their life events were significantly more stressful than non- Type D individuals. These greater perceptions of stress amongst Type D individuals were found to be caused by their increased levels of negative social relationships.

Our results suggest that life events stress is a likely mechanism promoting adverse cardiovascular health amongst Type D individuals, and that these stress perceptions are caused by a greater perception of negative social relationships.

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