In a small but intriguing study conducted by Mark Ketterer, a clinical psychologist at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, 100 men and women between the ages of 29 and 73 who had already been diagnosed with heart disease were asked to complete a 58-page questionnaire designed to measure aggravation, irritation, impatience, anger, depression, and anxiety. Next, the spouses of 38 of the male volunteers were also asked to complete the checklist because, according to Dr. Ketterer, men often deny these symptoms. Participants were also asked about their family and personal medical history, and their weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol were checked.
Presented on March 6, 2003, at the annual meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society in Phoenix, the study found that men with a family history of early heart disease (before age 56) scored significantly higher on the stress checklist.
"It turned out that crankiness, particularly as rated by a spouse, was a strong predictor of family history and of heart disease itself in males," said Dr. Ketterer. "This study provides evidence that the propensity to a cranky personality is heritable. About 40% of the degree of your crankiness is in your genes, and early heart disease might be accounted for by that factor." Other experts disagree, suggesting that people under stress tend to smoke and eat more.