Why people don’t “trust science”: The “Cancer Personality”

Considered by some to be one of the worst scientific scandals of all time (a crowded field of contenders, that!),

The scandal in question is one I had never heard of before, but the facts are jaw-dropping. Beginning in 1980, a Dr Ronald Grossarth-Maticek reported that he had discovered a cancer-prone ’emotionally repressed’ personality. Someone with this personality type was, he claimed, at very high risk of later developing cancer. A second personality type predicted ‘internal diseases’, such as stroke and hypertension. Even more remarkably, Grossarth-Maticek said, a brief course of psychotherapy was enough to virtually eliminate the excess risks.

Some of us remember the spate of articles that appeared in women’s mags on the cancer-prone personality. But the results were just too good to be true.

It might be said that this is all ancient history now, and there is no need for an investigation after so long, but I think this is entirely the wrong attitude. If anything, the fact that these frankly bizarre results are still in the literature (and, as Pelosi points out, still being cited) 30 years later makes the scandal even worse. Neuroskeptic, “The Cancer Personality Scandal (Part 1)” at Discover


Although that instance was debunked, the idea lives. Consider, for example, “Is There a Cancer-Prone Personality?  How you think and act may put you at risk” (Psychology Today, 2014) In 2017, the idea was discredited by a number of studies. Of course, behavior does affect cancer. Personality issues may lead a person to smoke but it’s the smoke that matters.

See also: See also: Claims of wildlife deaths greatly exaggerated