Neuroticism is Good for Your Health
Good news for all worrywarts and overachievers! All your moodiness, anxiety, organizational skills, and self-control may make you healthier. An analysis of personality traits and health biomarkers concluded that adults who display high levels of neuroticism — symptoms like worry, anxiety, anger, guilt, and jealousy – along with high levels of conscientiousness — being organized, thoughtful, and deliberate — had lower levels of inflammatory biomarkers, lower occurrences of chronic disease, and lower body mass indexes (BMIs). The authors, from the University of Rochester, included 1054 participants from the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States and assessed the “Big 5″ personality traits (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism) and medication use, comorbid conditions, smoking and alcohol use, BMI, and urine, blood, and saliva samples for biomarkers of health outcomes. Specifically, interleukin-6 (IL-6) was the biomarker associated with decreased chronic disease and inflammation.
In previous studies of personality and health outcomes, neuroticism has been associated with depression, increased chronic disease, high levels of substance abuse, overeating, smoking, and an increased risk of mortality. But, when coupled with high levels of conscientiousness, the conscientiousness mitigates the negative effects of neuroticism. According to the authors, people with high levels of both neuroticism and conscientiousness likely weigh the consequences of their actions and decisions carefully and are unlikely to engage in risky behavior. They also likely strive to prevent and treat illness and chronic disease. No other combination of personality traits revealed the same association with markers of inflammation and chronic disease.
Many nature- and nurture-based factors influence personality, risk taking, and health behaviors. There is likely a genetic component to personality, but that doesn’t explain all the neurotic and conscientious people in the world. But, regardless of why people are the way they are, many can now appreciate that their nervousness and Type-A organizational skills are improving their health. Just when, and if, a personality assessment will be included in medical questionnaires or annual physicals is still up for debate.
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Sutin AR, Terracciano A, Deiana B, Naitza S, Ferrucci L, Uda M, Schlessinger D, & Costa PT Jr (2010). High neuroticism and low conscientiousness are associated with interleukin-6. Psychological medicine, 40 (9), 1485-93 PMID: 19995479
Turiano NA, Mroczek DK, Moynihan J, & Chapman BP (2013). Big 5 personality traits and interleukin-6: Evidence for “healthy Neuroticism” in a US population sample. Brain, behavior, and immunity, 28, 83-9 PMID: 23123863
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