Friends' character insights contain clues to longevity

April 8, 2015 by Kim Krieger, University of Connecticut
Friends’ character insights contain clues to longevity

Your friends may know you better than you know yourself. Personality traits you display in your 20s hold clues to how long you'll live – and your friends can judge these traits better than you, researchers report in the journal Psychological Science.

"Friends are better predictors of your longevity than you are," says Madeleine Leveille, adjunct professor of psychology at UConn's Avery Point campus. Or at least they have more insight into your personality traits.

Using personality data from a study that was begun in 1935, a team of researchers including Leveille found that men rated highly conscientious, as determined from the averaged reports of five close friends, lived longer than men rated as less so. For women, agreeableness and emotional stability were associated with longer lifespans. The effects of these personality traits were quite clear – as strong as the correlation between smoking and lung cancer, says Jim Connolly, a forensic psychologist who co-authored the paper.

The researchers don't know why conscientiousness is so strongly linked with longevity in men. It may be that men who are conscientious are more likely to exercise and eat well and avoid risky behavior. For women, agreeableness and may allow them to avoid the of depression and anger.

A Tarot card depicting death. Credit: Yesenia Carrero/UConn Photo

It may also have had something to do with the times during which the study subjects lived, Connolly says. The women of this generation would have come of age during the 1920s and been young wives just as the Great Depression began who did not work outside the home, in order to preserve jobs for men. During the war years of the early 1940s, this all changed; the women would have been expected to go to work and manage households of children at the same time. And then during the late 1940s, they would have been under social pressure to leave the paid workforce to be housewives again. A flexible, agreeable personality might have been helpful in cushioning the many changes these women lived through.

Connolly and Leveille suggest that if the study were to be repeated now, when men and women have less gendered life experiences, conscientiousness might be just as important for predicting longevity in .

Psychologists have known that personality traits have some effect on life span, but this was the first study to show such a strong, unambiguous connection. The key difference between this study and others is the use of done by , instead of by the participants themselves.

"You expect your friends to be inclined to see you in a positive manner, but they also are keen observers of the personality traits that could send you to an early grave," says Joshua Jackson, assistant professor of psychology at Washington University.

Jackson brought his expertise in statistical analysis to the team, and also his relative youth – Connolly and Leveille plan eventually to turn over custody of the data set to him so he can take it into the next generation, getting in touch with children of the original participants. They hope to track the effects of and divorce into the second and third generations.

The study is one of the longest-running ever to link personality and mortality. It was begun in 1935 by E. Lowell Kelly, a professor of psychology at UConn at the time. Kelly was primarily interested in how personality affected divorce rates. But the detailed data on personality allowed Kelly and the researchers he collaborated with to subsequently look at other ways personality may influence a person's life.

Connolly, Leveille, and Jackson are currently using the same study to do an analysis of altruism and longevity. So far, they've found that the good do not die young – and neither do their spouses. They say this research should be ready for publication sometime later this year.

Explore further: Friends know how long you'll live, study finds

More information: "Your Friends Know How Long You Will Live: A 75-Year Study of Peer-Rated Personality Traits" Psychological Science 0956797614561800, first published on January 12, 2015 DOI: 10.1177/0956797614561800

Related Stories

Friends know how long you'll live, study finds

January 21, 2015
Young lovers walking down the aisle may dream of long and healthy lives together, but close friends in the wedding party may have a better sense of whether those wishes will come true, suggests new research on personality ...

Researchers link willingness to apologize with conscientiousness

March 26, 2015
We were all taught to say it in the playground and everyone learnt later to always say it to our spouses but it seems people with particular personality traits are more willing to actually apologise when they transgress.

Sickness and health between men and women

February 19, 2015
Gender and personality matter in how people cope with physical and mental illness, according to a paper by a Washington State University scientist and colleagues at the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce.

Men and women have major personality differences

January 4, 2012
Men and women have large differences in personality, according to a new study published Jan. 4 in the online journal PLoS ONE.

Study finds vast regional differences in personality within the UK

March 30, 2015
How exactly do we become the people we are? A study published earlier this week found that there are vast regional differences in personality within the UK.

Personality outsmarts intelligence at school

December 17, 2014
Recent research at Griffith University has found that personality is more important than intelligence when it comes to success in education.

Recommended for you

Suicide risk in abused teen girls linked to mother-daughter conflict

October 18, 2018
Teenage girls who were maltreated as children are more likely to entertain suicidal thoughts if the relationship with their mother is poor and the degree of conflict between the two of them high.

Study shows how bias can influence people estimating the ages of other people

October 17, 2018
A trio of researchers from the University of New South Wales and Western Sydney University has discovered some of the factors involved when people make errors in estimating the ages of other people. In their paper published ...

Infants are more likely to learn when with a peer

October 16, 2018
Infants are more likely to learn from on-screen instruction when paired with another infant as opposed to viewing the lesson alone, according to a new study.

Researchers use brain cells in a dish to study genetic origins of schizophrenia

October 16, 2018
A study in Biological Psychiatry has established a new analytical method for investigating the complex genetic origins of mental illnesses using brain cells that are grown in a dish from human embryonic stem cells. Researchers ...

Income and wealth affect the mental health of Australians, study shows

October 16, 2018
Australians who have higher incomes and greater wealth are more likely to experience better mental health throughout their lives, new research led by the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre has found.

Study suggests biological basis for depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances in older adults

October 15, 2018
UC San Francisco researchers, in collaboration with the unique Brazilian Biobank for Aging Studies (BBAS) at the University of São Paulo, have shown that the earliest stages of the brain degeneration associated with Alzheimer's ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.