Interpersonal Circumplex Descriptions of Psychosocial Risk Factors for Physical Illness: Application to Hostility, Neuroticism, and Marital Adjustment


  • This research was supported by NIH Grant AG018903.

concerning this article should be sent to Timothy W. Smith, Department of Psychology, University of Utah, 380 South 1530 East (Room 502), Behavioral Sciences Building, Salt Lake City, UT 84112. E-mail:


ABSTRACT Personality risk factors for physical illness are typically studied individually and apart from risk factors reflecting the social environment, potentially fostering a piecemeal understanding of psychosocial influences on health. Because it can be used to describe both personality and social relationship processes, the interpersonal circumplex (IPC) provides an integrative approach to psychosocial risk. In 301 married couples we examined IPC correlates of 3 risk factor domains: anger, hostility, and aggressiveness; neuroticism; and marital adjustment. Risk factors displayed IPC locations ranging from hostile dominance (e.g., verbal aggressiveness, marital conflict) to hostility (e.g., anger) to hostile submissiveness (e.g., anxiety, depression); protective factors (marital satisfaction and support) reflected warmth or friendliness in the IPC. Similar descriptions were found using self-reports and spouse ratings of IPC dimensions, indicating that interpersonal styles associated with risk factors do not simply reflect common method variance. Findings identify interpersonal processes reflecting low affiliation or high hostility as a common component of risk and indicate distinctions among risk factors along the dominance dimension.