Personality influences lifespan as much as socioeconomic status. Why is that?

A group of Wisconsin nuns in the 1930 s have also shown that positive personality traits can add years to your life. Being disagreeable, on the other hand, can be deadly

On this day in 1930, the Mother Superior of the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, sent a letter asking every member of the sisterhood to write an autobiography. She offered few further instructions, and so left it up to each member of theorder to decide how to describe the most important episodes of their own lives. Some nuns chose to insert emotional details about how their experiences had affected them. Others recounted only bald facts.

Seven decades later, researchers at the University of Kentucky found that these differences were strong predictors of how long the 180 nuns in their study lived. The more the sisters couched their accounts of personal responses to major life events in positivity, the greater their longevity.

The great benefit of analyzing nuns is that on all the common lifestyle factors that tend to affect longevity living conditions, access to health care, wedding( or absence of it) nuns live virtually identical lives to one another. The autobiographies were written when the Notre Dame sisters were around 22 years old. So this study suggests that suffering tendencies and coping mechanisms, when extended throughout our adult lives, matter substantially for health and lifespan.

These days, psychologists have reached a consensus on a more thorough style to measure personality than simply degree of positivity: they score someones along five dimensions.

These dimensions, known as the Big Five, are each continuums: from pure introversion to exaggerated extraversion, for example, or neurotic nervousness to complete confidence. Together the Big Five composed the acronym Ocean openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism( or emotional stability) and are typically assessed using a questionnaire. Over hour, researchers have come to realize that personality is at least as good at predicting longevity as socioeconomic status.

That may sound implausible, but records of 1,500 Hawaiian students illustrate how personality types can play out. In the early 1960 s, some elementary school teachers in Hawaii were asked to assess each member of their young class for the Big Five dimensions.

Forty years down the line, early childhood ratings for a few of these dimensions correlated strongly with a roster of determining factor for chronic illness: smoking, alcohol intake, and excessive body mass among them.

For both sexes, the more conscientious elementary schoolers were the ones who grew into healthy adults at middle age.

For women only, smoking in ones 40 s was associated with low agreeableness( or conformity) scores in elementary school perhaps, the study writers suggest, because these women became hooked on nicotine when smoking was considered a more rebellious behavior for women than it was for men.

Conscientiousness is undoubtedly the personality trait that matters most for longevity. It is also a remarkably stable trait across whole lifetimes. The direct health benefits of being an orderly, goal-directed person, able to control your impulses, are intuitive: is not merely do they mean you are psychologically equipped to defy a second slice of cake, but also that you do a good task of adhering to a doctors advice when you get sick.

Conscientiousness is what separates Sardinians with lots of good cholesterol from those with too much bad cholesterol; it is what predicts which patients with poorly functioning kidneys are going to snuff it first.

There are indirect advantages to conscientiousness, too. It is an excellent predictor of college GPA, even when the influence of high school SAT scores is removed utilizing statistics. As a result, the conscientious tend to get better tasks, and in turn, better healthcare. The overall medical advantages that stem from conscientiousness are so substantial that possible methods to instill the trait have been put forward as public health policies, and medical researchers have called for measures of conscientiousness to be included in patient records.

For the remaining Big Five, the relationship with lifespan is less straightforward. Neuroticism connotes never waiting long to see a doctor about a niggling medical worry, although and unlike the long-lived nuns a tendency towards low mood and poor ability to manage lifes stressors. Extroverts are likely good at trying support when they need it, but they can be drawn into risky behaviors.

For agreeable people, the world is a more trustworthy place, and so they often enjoy high quality personal relationships. Yet in their obedience, the agreeable can do things they may subsequently regret.( For instance, agreeable people may be particularly willing to deliver a high-voltage electric shock in a Milgram-like experiment .) The fifth are part of the Big Five, openness( aka ingenuity ), can also be good or bad for health, depending on what exactly it is that an open person seeks to explore.

To clarify the health impacts of these conflicting influences, groups of Big Five researchershave mushroomed all over the world, with the intention of figuring out the common personality traits among longevitys high achievers: the worlds centenarians. These scholars have accessed of personalities of people over 100 years of age living in Tokyo, Sweden, and the southern nation of Georgia, among other places. In Australia, researchers used one-hundredth birthday letters from Queen Elizabeth II as proof of age.

Although not all centenarian surveys have found the same outcomes, generally, people who make it to very old age are predominantly emotional stable( ie non-neurotic) extroverts in addition to being highly conscientious. In Baltimore, researchers analyzing the elderly calculated exactly how much this combination of traits contributed to survival. Having ratings for extraversion and conscientiousness one standard deviation above median, and a score for neuroticism one standard deviation below average, adds two or three more years of life, they report.

Like the sisters of Notre Dame many of whom wrote their autobiographies from a convent in Baltimore these retirees were blessed with the intrinsic skills to navigate what life threw at them with equanimity. Their lesson to the unconscientious, to the natural introverts and hypochondriac wallowers out there, is to recognize how your own behavioral tendencies could be impacting your health, and take steps to address them. One day, your life may depend on it.

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