Personality traits give clues to why some people live longer

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  • A new study shows how personality can be used to measure a person's long-term mortality risk
  • Researchers say that they looked at particular biomarkers specific to immune function
  • They found that these biomarkers are linked to personality traits and can determine death risk

A new study led by the University of Limerick found that the immune system can be used to associate a person’s personality with their long-term risk of death. 

The Principal Investigator of the study, Dr Páraic Ó Súilleabháin, explained: “Personality is known to be associated with long-term risk of death; it is a well-replicated finding observed across numerous research studies internationally.

"The critical question is ‘how’. We wanted to find out if a biological pathway such as our immune system may explain why this happens.”

Personality traits and mortality hazards

Dr Ó Súilleabháin and a team of collaborators drew data from the Midlife in the United States Survey that had 14 years of follow-up and included 957 participants, aged 35-86 years. 

The researchers wanted to investigate whether two specific biological markers – which are key to the immune system – have an effect on long-term death risk, and how personality traits may be linked to how long one lives. 

“Our personality is critically important throughout our lives, from early stages in our development, to the accumulation of the impact of how we think, feel, and behave across our lives, and in the years preceding our death.

"It is also becoming increasingly apparent how important personality actually is for our long-term health and resulting longevity,” Dr Ó Súilleabháin stated. 

The two specific biomarkers the researchers focused on for the study was cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6) and c-reactive protein (CRP).

These markers are central to the immune system, and while they are historically known as being involved in inflammatory responses, they have recently been identified as playing an important role in disease-specific and all-cause mortality.

According to the researchers, “The idea that personality traits are associated with both IL-6 and CRP has received growing interest.”

Levels of biomarkers linked to personality traits 

The team found that when an individual is conscientious, it is because of the makeup of their immune system, and this in turn affects their long-term death risk. 

“We found that part of the reason why people who score higher on the personality trait of conscientiousness live longer is as a result of their immune system, specifically due to lower levels of a biological marker called interleukin-6.

"There are likely further biological mechanisms that are yet to be discovered which will give a clearer picture of all the different ways that our personalities are so critical to our long-term health,” Dr Ó Súilleabháin explained. 

The researchers went on to say that these findings could allow us to increase our longevity and health in the future.

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