Open Access Research article

Personality, psychological stress, and self-reported influenza symptomatology

Kim GE Smolderen1*, Ad JJM Vingerhoets1, Marcel A Croon2 and Johan Denollet1

Author Affiliations

1 CoRPS-Centre of Research on Psychology in Somatic diseases, Tilburg University, Tilburg, The Netherlands

2 Statistics and methodology Department, Tilburg University, Tilburg, The Netherlands

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BMC Public Health 2007, 7:339  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-7-339

Published: 23 November 2007



Psychological stress and negative mood have been related to increased vulnerability to influenza-like illness (ILI). This prospective study re-evaluated the predictive value of perceived stress for self-reported ILI. We additionally explored the role of the negative affectivity and social inhibition traits.


In this study, 5,404 respondents from the general population were assessed in terms of perceived stress, personality, and control variables (vaccination, vitamin use, exercise, etc.). ILI were registered weekly using self-report measures during a follow-up period of four weeks.


Multivariable logistic regression analysis on ILI was performed to test the predictive power of stress and personality. In this model, negative affectivity (OR = 1.05, p = 0.009), social inhibition (OR = 0.97, p = 0.011), and perceived stress (OR = 1.03, p = 0.048) predicted ILI reporting. Having a history of asthma (OR = 2.33, p = < 0.0001) was also associated with ILI reporting. Older age was associated with less self-reported ILI (OR = 0.98, P = 0.017).


Elderly and socially inhibited persons tend to report less ILI as compared to their younger and less socially inhibited counterparts. In contrast, asthma, trait negative affectivity, and perceived stress were associated with higher self-report of ILI. Our results demonstrate the importance of including trait markers in future studies examining the relation between stress and self-report symptom measures.