Psychology Melbourne Blog

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Type A personality risks a fiction

Edited by Jill Wright,

Are you worried that your stressful existence is going to shorten your life? Have you been told that you have a "Type A personality" and that you're at much greater risk than normal of having a heart attack?

It's by no means unusual for our psychologists at Psychology Melbourne to have to help anxious clients deal with these fears. 

Fortunately, we can give them some good news: the whole idea of stress causing physical damage ranging from cancer to cardiovascular diseases is a myth. And it turns out that the concept of stress having physical consequences was actually promoted by the tobacco industry, seeking to muddy the waters in the face of evidence that smoking was a serious health risk.

It's roughly three years since researchers led by Dr Mark Petticrew, then director of public health research at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and now a Professor of Public Health Evaluation revealed the source of the stress myth in a paper published in Public Health Ethics.

Petticrew and his team had trolled through an archive of millions of documents the tobacco industry had been forced to place online as part of a legal settlement. 

The story of an obsessive endicronologist intent on making the field of physical consequences of stress a legacy and two cardiologists who claimed that there was an entire class of people who had twice the risk of coronary heart disease is a fascinating reflection on the factors that drive questionable conclusions in the field of health research.

The tragedy is that the public is largely unaware of these motivations, and tends to take what vested interests like drug companies claim at face value. 

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About the editor, Jill Wright

Jill Wright (MAPS, AAFT, AICD) is the Director and Principal Psychologist at Psychology Melbourne. Jill was twice elected General Director of the Australian Psychological Society and established the Study Group Network. Find out more about Jill Wright.