Personality and chronic fatigue syndrome: methodological and conceptual issues

Clin Psychol Rev. 2007 Dec;27(8):885-903. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2007.01.010. Epub 2007 Jan 27.


Among clinical psychologists, consulting physicians, scientific researchers and society in general an image has emerged of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) as perfectionist, conscientious, hardworking, somewhat neurotic and introverted individuals with high personal standards, a great desire to be socially accepted and with a history of continuously pushing themselves past their limits. The aim of this article is to (a) give a concise review of the main recent studies on personality and CFS, (b) address the major methodological problems in the study of personality in CFS and (c) discuss some of the conceptual assumptions that seem to limit the research on personality and CFS. The results of the reviewed studies range from no evidence of major differences between the personalities of patients with CFS and controls, to evidence of severe psychopathology and personality disorder in patients with CFS. Although personality seems to play a role in CFS, it is difficult to draw general conclusions on the relation between personality and CFS. It is argued that this is partially due to the diversity and heterogeneity in study methods, patient populations, control groups and CFS case definitions. Personality should be regarded as an important factor to be studied in CFS. However, additional studies are needed, not focusing exclusively on personality disorder, or personality considered on a general trait level. In recent developments in personality research, the continually evolving life narrative that makes sense of, and gives direction to, an individual's life is also regarded as an important aspect of personality. New insights into personality and CFS might be gained by systematically studying the self-narratives of patients with the syndrome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Culture
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / diagnosis*
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / epidemiology
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Models, Psychological
  • Narration
  • Personality / classification*
  • Personality Assessment
  • Personality Disorders / diagnosis
  • Personality Disorders / epidemiology
  • Personality Disorders / psychology
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Psychometrics
  • Research
  • Research Design / standards
  • Social Change