Key Search Terms: Predictors of Longevity
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Published online before print July 2, 2008, 10.1097/PSY.0b013e31817b9371
Psychosomatic Medicine 70:621-627 (2008)
© 2008 American Psychosomatic Society
Personality Predictors of Longevity: Activity, Emotional Stability, and Conscientiousness
Antonio Terracciano, PhD, Corinna E. Löckenhoff, PhD, Alan B. Zonderman, PhD, Luigi Ferrucci, MD, PhD and Paul T. Costa, Jr, PhD
From the National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, Baltimore, Maryland.
Address correspondence and reprint requests to Antonio Terracciano, Laboratory of Personality and Cognition, National Institute on Aging, NIH, DHHS, 251 Bayview Blvd, Baltimore, MD 21224. E-mail: TerraccianoA@mail.nih.gov
Objective: To examine the association between personality traits and longevity.
Methods: Using the Guilford-Zimmerman Temperament Survey, personality traits were assessed in 2359 participants (38% women; age = 17 to 98 years, mean = 50 years) from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, starting in 1958. Over the duration of the study, 943 (40%) participants died, on average 18 years after their personality assessment. The association of each trait with longevity was examined by Cox regression controlling for demographic variables.
Results: In preliminary analyses among the deceased, those who scored 1 standard deviation (SD) above the mean on General Activity (a facet of Extraversion), Emotional Stability (low Neuroticism), or Conscientiousness lived on average 2 to 3 years longer than those scoring 1 SD below the mean. Survival analyses on the full sample confirmed the association of General Activity, Emotional Stability, and Conscientiousness with lower risk of death, such that every 1-SD increase was related to about 13%, 15%, and 27% risk reduction, respectively. The association of personality traits with longevity was largely independent from the influence of smoking and obesity. Personality predictors of longevity did not differ by sex, except for Ascendance (a facet of Extraversion). Emotional Stability was a significant predictor when the analyses were limited to deaths due to cardiovascular disease, with comparable effect sizes for General Activity and Conscientiousness.
Conclusions: In a large sample of generally healthy individuals followed for almost five decades, longevity was associated with being conscientious, emotionally stable, and active.
Key Words: neuroticism • health • mortality • longevity • smoking • obesity
Abbreviations: BLSA = Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging; SD = standard deviation; FFM = Five-Factor Model; GZTS = Guilford-Zimmerman Temperament Survey; BMI = body mass index; HR = hazard ratio; CI = confidence interval.
Psychosomatic Medicine 67:841-845 (2005)
© 2005 American Psychosomatic Society
Neuroticism, Extraversion, and Mortality in a Defined Population of Older Persons
Robert S. Wilson, PhD, Kristin R. Krueger, PhD, Liping Gu, MS, Julia L. Bienias, ScD, Carlos F. Mendes de Leon, PhD and Denis A. Evans, MD
From the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center (RSW, KRK) and the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging (LG, JLB, CFMdL, DAE), and the Departments of Neurological Sciences (RSW, DAE), Psychology (RSW, KRK), and Internal Medicine (JLB, CFMdL, DAE), Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, Illinois.
Address correspondence and reprint requests to Robert S. Wilson, PhD, Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center, Rush University Medical Center, 600 S. Paulina, Suite 1038, Chicago, IL 60612. E-mail: email@example.com
Objective: The objective of this study was to test the association of the personality traits of neuroticism and extraversion with risk of death in old age.
Methods: A census was taken of a geographically defined urban community in Chicago, and those aged 65 years or older were invited to participate in an in-home interview; 6158 (79% of those eligible) did so. The interview included brief measures of neuroticism and extraversion, medical history, and questions about current participation in cognitive, social, and physical activities. Vital status was subsequently monitored. The association of each trait with risk of death was examined in a series of accelerated failure-time models that controlled for age, sex, race, and education.
Results: During a mean of more than 6 years of observation, 2430 persons (39.5%) died. A high level of neuroticism (score = 27; 90th percentile) was associated with a 33% increase in risk of death compared with a low level of neuroticism (score = 9; 10th percentile). A high level of extraversion (score = 33; 90th percentile) was associated with a 21% decrease in risk of death compared with a low level (score = 18; 10th percentile). Adjustment for medical conditions and health-related variables did not substantially affect results, but adjusting for baseline levels of cognitive, social, and physical activity reduced the association of both traits with mortality.
Conclusions: The results suggest that higher extraversion and lower neuroticism are associated with reduced risk of mortality in old age and that these associations are mediated in part by personality-related patterns of cognitive, social, and physical activity.
Key Words: neuroticism • extraversion • mortality • cognitive activity • social activity • physical activity
Abbreviations: SD = standard deviation; SE = standard error; RR = relative risk; CI = confidence interval.
Here are the facets making up the Big Five Factors of Personality traits:
Facets of Conscientiousness (Work Ethic):
Sense of Competence
Sense of Responsibility
Conscientiousness concerns the way in which we control, regulate and direct our impulses. Impulses are not inherently bad; occasionally time constraints require a snap decision and acting on our first impulse can be an effective response. Also, in times of play rather than work, acting spontaneously and impulsively can be fun. Impulsive individuals can be seen by others as colourful, fun-to-be-with and zany.
Nonetheless, acting on impulse can lead to trouble in a number of ways. Some impulses are antisocial. Uncontrolled antisocial acts not only harm other members of society but also can result in retribution toward the perpetrator of such impulsive acts. Another problem with impulsive acts is that they often produce immediate rewards but undesirable, long-term consequences. Examples include excessive socialising that leads to being fired from one's job, hurling an insult that causes the break-up of an important relationship, or using pleasure-inducing drugs that eventually destroy one's health.
Impulsive behaviour, even when not seriously destructive, diminishes a person's effectiveness in significant ways. Acting impulsively disallows contemplating alternative courses of action, some of which would have been wiser than the impulsive choice. Impulsivity also sidetracks people during projects that require organised sequences of steps or stages. Accomplishments of an impulsive person are therefore small, scattered and inconsistent.
A hallmark of intelligence is the ability to think about future consequences before acting on an impulse. Intelligent activity involves contemplation of long-range goals, organising and planning routes to these goals and persisting toward one's goals in the face of short-lived impulses to the contrary. The idea that intelligence involves impulse control is nicely captured by the term prudence, an alternative label for the Conscientiousness domain. Prudent means both wise and cautious. Persons who score high on the Conscientiousness scale are, in fact, perceived by others as intelligent.
The benefits of high conscientiousness are obvious. Conscientious individuals avoid trouble and achieve high levels of success through purposeful planning and persistence. They are also positively regarded by others as intelligent and reliable. On the negative side, they can be compulsive perfectionists and workaholics. Furthermore, extremely conscientious individuals might be regarded as stuffy and boring. People who are lacking in conscientiousness may be criticised for their unreliability, lack of ambition and failure to stay within the lines, but they will experience many short-lived pleasures and they will never be called stuffy.
Sense of Competence
Competency describes an individual's confidence in their ability to accomplish things.
People with high scores in this area are well-organised, tidy and neat.
Sense of Responsibility
This facet of personality reflects the strength of a person's sense of duty and obligation.
Individuals who score high in this area strive hard to achieve excellence. Their drive to be recognised as successful keeps them on track as they work hard to achieve their goals.
Self-discipline, called 'will-power' by many people, refers to the ability to persist at difficult or unpleasant tasks until they are completed.
Cautiousness describes the disposition to think carefully through possibilities before acting.
Facets of Extraversion:
Extraversion is marked by pronounced engagement with the external world. Extraverts enjoy being with people, are full of energy and often experience positive emotions.
They tend to be enthusiastic and action-oriented individuals who are likely to say "Yes!" or "Let's go!" to opportunities for excitement. In groups they like to talk, assert themselves and draw attention to themselves.
Introverts lack the exuberance, energy and activity levels of extraverts. They tend to be quiet, low-key, deliberate and disengaged from the social world.
However. their lack of social involvement should not be interpreted as shyness or depression; the introvert simply needs less stimulation than an extravert and prefers to be alone. The independence and reserve of the introvert is sometimes mistaken as unfriendliness or arrogance.
Friendly people genuinely like other people and openly demonstrate positive feelings toward others.
Gregarious people find the company of others pleasantly stimulating and rewarding. They enjoy the excitement of crowds.
High scorers for this area of personality are easily bored without high levels of stimulation.
This facet measures a person's ability to experience a range of positive feelings, including happiness, enthusiasm, optimism and joy.
High scorers for Assertiveness like to charge and direct the activities of others. They tend to be leaders in groups.
Active individuals lead fast-paced and busy lives. They do things and move about quickly, energetically, vigorously and they are involved in many activities.
Facets of Natural Reactions (Emotional Stability Vs. Neuroticism)
Sensitivity to Stress
People high in Natural Reactions are emotionally reactive. They respond emotionally to events that do not affect a lot of people and their reactions tend to be more intense. They are more likely to interpret ordinary situations as threatening and minor frustrations as hopelessly difficult. Their negative emotional reactions tend to persist for unusually long periods of time. These problems can diminish a person's ability to think clearly, make decisions and cope effectively with stress.
At the other end of the scale, individuals who score low in Natural Reactions are less easily upset and are less emotionally reactive. They tend to be calm, relaxed and rarely experience negative feelings. Freedom from negative feelings does not necessarily mean that low scorers experience a lot of positive feelings, (frequency of positive emotions is measured by a facet of the Extraversion factor).
The 'fight-or-flight' system of the brain of anxious individuals is too easily and too often engaged. Therefore, people who score high in this area often feel like something unpleasant, threatening or dangerous is about to happen.
This facet measures the tendency to feel angry. Whether or not a person expresses annoyance and hostility depends on his or her level of Agreeableness.
This facet measures normal differences in the way that people react to life's ups and downs. We are not using the word 'depression' in a medical or clinical sense.
Self-conscious individuals are sensitive about what others think of them. Their concern about rejection and ridicule cause them to feel shy and uncomfortable around others. They are easily embarrassed.
People who score in the high range for Immoderation feel strong cravings and urges that they have difficulty resisting - even though they know that they are likely to regret it later. They tend to be oriented toward short-term pleasures and rewards rather than long-term consequences.
Sensitivity to Stress
High scorers on Sensitivity to Stress have difficulty in coping with stress. They experience panic, confusion and helplessness when under pressure or when facing emergency situations.
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Not sure why Self-Indulgence vs. Moderation is a facet of Natural Reactions (Emotional Lability) instead of conscientiousness.
Obviously we see our centenarians in these descriptions--low stress, keep busy with a strong work ethic, believe in moderation, accept losses and move on.
103 year old appointed to the Order of Canada
7 years ago