The Personality Trait Linked To Doubling Of Heart Disease Risk

How pessimism and optimism independently influence the death rate from heart disease.

Being a pessimist is associated with a higher chance of death from coronary artery disease, a study found.

Previous studies have suggested that optimism is related to better cardiovascular outcomes and even optimism or a low level of pessimism protects people from heart disease.

The study followed 2,267 men and women from Finland aged between 52 and 76 for over 11 years.

In the scientific sense, optimism and pessimism focus on attitudes towards the future.

They are about expecting that many good or bad things, whether possible or impossible, will happen.

The test includes questions like “in uncertain times, I usually expect the best” or “if something can go wrong for me, it will”.

Participants in the top 25% of scores on pessimism were more than twice as likely to die of heart disease than those who scored lowest on pessimism.

However, optimists who have a ‘glass half-full’ attitude were not protected against mortality caused by heart disease, but did better than pessimists, the study added.

Dr Mikko Pänkäläinen, the study’s first author, said:

“High levels of pessimism have previously been linked to factors that affect cardiac health, such as inflammation, but data on the connection between risk of death from CHD and optimism and pessimism as personality traits are relatively scarce.”

Dr Pänkäläinen added:

“Levels of pessimism can be measured quite easily and pessimism might be a very useful tool together with other known risk factors such as diabetes, hypertension or smoking to determine the risk of CHD-induced mortality.”

Dr Suzanne Steinbaum, cardiologist and director of Women’s Heart Health at Lenox Hill Hospital, noted:

“With pessimism, we know that there is an increase in inflammatory hormones and stress hormones.

And that likely affects the heart, leading to heart attacks and atherosclerosis.

Although we might not be able to say, ‘Be optimistic, it’s going to save you,’ what we can say is that pessimism really creates a stressful environment in your body and that leads to heart disease.”

Dr Steinbaum suggests that behavioural therapy can help pessimistic people since this type of therapy helps people to think differently.

→ Read on: How to change your personality.

The study was published in journal BMC Public Health (Pänkäläinen et al., 2016).

 Pessimists – Optimists image from Shutterstock