Although the belief that personality is linked to health goes back at least to Greek and Roman times, the scientific study of these links began in earnest only during the last century. The field of psychosomatic medicine, which grew out of psychoanalysis, accepted that the body and the mind were closely connected. By the end of the 20th century, the widespread adoption of the five-factor model of personality and the availability of reliable and valid measures of personality traits transformed the study of personality and health. Of the five broad domains of personality (extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and intellect/openness), the most consistent findings in relation to health have been obtained for conscientiousness (i.e., hard-working, reliable, self-controlled). People who are more conscientious have better health and live longer lives than those who are less conscientious. These advantages are partly explained by the better health behaviors, good social relationships, and less stress that tend to characterize those who are more conscientious. The causal relation between personality and health may run in both directions; that is, personality influences health, and health influences personality. In addition to disease diagnoses and longevity, changes on biomarkers such as inflammation, cortisol activity, and cellular aging are increasingly used to chart health in relation to personality traits and to test explanatory models. Recognizing that both personality and health change over the life course has promoted longitudinal studies and a life-span approach to the study of personality and health.
Sarah E. Hampson
Ildiko Tombor and Susan Michie
People’s behavior influences health, for example, in the prevention, early detection, and treatment of disease, the management of illness, and the optimization of healthcare professionals’ behaviors. Behaviors are part of a system of behaviors within and between people in that any one behavior is influenced by others. Methods for changing behavior may be aimed at individuals, organizations, communities, and/or populations and at changing different influences on behavior, e.g., motivation, capability, and the environment. A framework that encapsulates these influences is the Behavior Change Wheel, which links an understanding of behavior in its context with methods to change behavior. Within this framework, methods are conceptualized at three levels: policies that represent high-level societal and organizational decisions, interventions that are more direct methods to change behavior, and behavior change techniques that are the smallest components that on their own have the potential to change behavior. In order to provide intervention designers with a systematic method to select the policies, interventions, and/or techniques relevant for their context, a set of criteria can be used to help select intervention methods that are likely to be implemented and effective. One such set is the “APEASE” criteria: affordability, practicability, effectiveness, acceptability, safety, and equity.
Loneliness or perceived social isolation is a subjective experience relating to dissatisfaction with one’s social relationships. Most research has focused on the experience of loneliness in old age, but levels of loneliness are also known to be high among teenagers and young adults. While poor health may be associated with increased feelings of loneliness, there is now considerable evidence on the role of loneliness as a risk factor for poor mental and physical health. Studies show that loneliness is associated with an increased risk of developing dementia and chronic diseases, and also with a higher rate of mortality. Risky health behaviors, a poor cardiovascular profile and compromised immune functioning have all been proposed as potential pathways through which loneliness may affect health. However, much still remains to be understood about these mechanisms.
Victoria I. Michalowski, Denis Gerstorf, and Christiane A. Hoppmann
Aging does not occur in isolation, but often involves significant others such as spouses. Whether such dyadic associations involve gains or losses depends on a myriad of factors, including the time frame under consideration. What is beneficial in the short term may not be so in the long term, and vice versa. Similarly, what is beneficial for one partner may be costly for the other, or the couple unit over time. Daily dynamics between partners involving emotion processes, health behaviors, and collaborative cognition may accumulate over years to affect the longer-term physical and mental health outcomes of either partner or both partners across adulthood and into old age. Future research should move beyond an individual-focused approach to aging and consider the importance of and interactions among multiple time scales to better understand how, when, and why older spouses shape each other’s aging trajectories, both for better and for worse.
Sebastian E. Bartos
Both academic and lay definitions of sex vary. However, definitions generally gravitate around reproduction and the experience of pleasure. Some theoretical approaches, such as psychoanalysis and evolutionary psychology, have positioned sexuality at the center of psychological phenomena. Much research has also linked sex to health and disease. On the one hand, certain sexual thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and identities have been described as pathological. Over time, some of these have been accepted as normal (especially homosexuality), while new forms of pathology have also been proposed (e.g., “porn addiction”). On the other hand, some aspects of sexuality are being researched due to their relevance to public health (e.g., sex education) or to counseling (e.g., assisted reproduction). Sex research has always been controversial, paradoxically receiving both positive attention and disdain. These contradictory social forces have arguably affected both the content and the scientific quality of sex research.
Stuart Linke and Elizabeth Murray
Alcohol-use disorders are widespread and associated with a greatly increased risk of health-related and societal harms. The majority of harms associated with consumption are experienced by those who drink above recommended guidelines, rather than those who are alcohol dependent. Brief interventions and treatments based on screening questionnaires and feedback have been developed for this group, which are effective tools for reducing consumption in primary care and in other settings. Most people who drink excessively do not receive help to reduce the risks associated with excessive consumption. Digital versions of brief and extended interventions have the potential to reach populations that might derive benefit from them. Digital interventions utilize the same principles as do traditional face-to-face versions, but they have the advantages of availability, confidentiality, flexibility, low marginal costs, and treatment integrity. The evidence for the feasibility, acceptability, costs, and effectiveness of digital interventions is encouraging, and the evidence for effectiveness is particularly strong in studies of student populations. There are, however, a number of unresolved questions. It is not clear which components of interventions are required to maximize effectiveness, whether digital versions are enhanced by the addition of personal contact from a facilitator or a health professional, or how to increase take up of the offer of a digital intervention and reduce attrition from a program. These questions are common to many online behavior-change interventions and there are opportunities for cross-disciplinary learning between psychologists, health professionals, computer scientists, and e-health researchers.