Researchers found that specific personality types are linked with living longer. (Photo: Getty Images)
You probably already do a lot to help ensure you live as long as possible: You eat well, exercise when you can, and try to keep stress levels down. But new research out of Washington University in St. Louis finds that something you don’t have much control over — your personality — could predict how long you live. Even more: Your friends are better at ID’ing your personality traits than you are, the study found.
To test whether people’s friends’ reports of their personality predicted mortality risk, researchers used a 36-question survey and data from a 75-year longitudinal study. The people in the study filled out questionnaires in the 1930s when they were in their mid-20s. Researchers then tracked these people through to 2013, and examined their mortality rates.
In the study, published in the journal Psychological Science, men lived longer when their friends rated them as conscientious and open; for women, emotional stability and agreeableness were protective.
“Your personality is associated with specific health behaviors,” Joshua Jackson, PhD, lead author of the study, tells Yahoo Health. The general idea is that certain traits lead to certain health behaviors that accumulate over a lifetime and either put you at risk for disease and unhealthy behaviors or protect against them.
What’s with the differing protective traits for men and women? That may come down to historical effects, says Jackson. “Because the questionnaires were filled out in the 1930s, not every female had a career — so friends viewed these women in the home setting. If we were able to do the study today, I would suspect there would not be gender differences.”
Why Are Your Friends Better at Pinpointing Your Personality?
One of the most interesting reasons researchers think friends are better at assessing your personality than you yourself is that your buddies are able to pinpoint characteristics that you may miss. “Some research suggests we all have blind spots in self-perception. It’s possible that friends have a unique insight,” says Jackson.
The second possibility: In the study, researchers averaged the insights of five friends — so they were able to wash out the idiosyncrasies of any one friend. “With peers, you can get different perspectives — it’s a much cleaner, more accurate picture.”
For now, check out the traits studied, below. They could be related to your health — and have long-term negative or positive consequences.
Conscientiousness: A number of studies have linked conscientiousness to health behaviors like eating a healthy diet and exercising. “The trait is also associated with not doing negative health behaviors like smoking or drinking too much,” says Jackson. In the study, conscientiousness was associated with a 29 percent decrease in mortality risk. The good news: If this isn’t your strong suit, Jackson says that on average, everyone becomes more conscientious with age.
Neuroticism: “People who are neurotic experience more anxiety and tend to be more stressed out. Stress has a lot of negative consequences for immune functioning, especially when it’s prolonged,” says Jackson. “When you view the world as more stressful, you tend to subject yourself to more stressful experiences, which leads to worse health.” Plus, neurotic people are more likely to use poor coping strategies — smoking and alcohol and drug use — which are linked to stress and can further exacerbate health maladies. (Keep in mind, though, that there is such a thing as healthy neuroticism — people who are high in conscientiousness and neuroticism — which is protective for health.)
Openness: This is a trait related to intelligence and creativity. More openness was linked to a 15 percent decreased risk for mortality in the study.
Emotional stability: This is the opposite of neuroticism. People who are emotionally stable are calm and, on average, less anxious, says Jackson. This can be protective in the same way that neuroticism can be harmful.
Agreeableness: This characteristic is related to interpersonal functioning, says Jackson. “Researchers have found that people who are agreeable are healthier because they tend to create social networks that promote health. They are the people you like to be around.” Plus, stronger social connections and better ties have been linked to better health. Higher levels of both peer-rated emotional stability and peer-rated agreeableness cut someone’s mortality risk by 15 percent in the study.