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We used cluster analysis to delineate coping subtypes in a sample of 166 men with coronary heart disease who completed the Antwerp out-patient rehabilitation programme. These subtypes were identified on the basis of three well-defined superordinate traits that were selected from a comprehensive taxonomy: negative affectivity, social inhibition, and self-deception. Using Ward's minimum variance method and the cubic clustering criterion, we identified four coping subtypes; low-negative affectivity (N = 48), high-negative affectivity (N = 30), inhibited (N = 62), and repressive (N = 26) individuals. The accuracy of the resulting classification was demonstrated across parallel data sets and was further validated against external, health-related correlates that were not included in the clustering. The identified coping subtypes were significantly related to self-reports of subjective distress/perceived stress, ratings of Type A behaviour and anger-in, return to work, prevalence of chest-pain complaints, and use of minor tranquillizers and sleeping pills. The major findings of this study suggest that (a) male coronary patients represent a heterogeneous population with distinctly different coping subtypes, and that (b) a relatively small number of homogeneous subtypes can account for a substantial amount of variance in subjective well-being, coronary-prone behaviour, and return to work. These findings indicate that psychosomatic research should focus on how superordinate traits interact within individuals and corroborate the appropriateness of a class model to describe coping styles of male coronary patients. It is argued that discrepant findings across studies of Type-A behaviour and hostility may be related to the coping subtypes of the subject sample. Further attempts to cross-validate this classification scheme and to examine its health-related correlates are needed.
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