Neuroticism may postpone death for some

July 24, 2017
Credit: Association for Psychological Science

Data from a longitudinal study of over 500,000 people in the United Kingdom indicate that having higher levels of the personality trait neuroticism may reduce the risk of death for individuals who report being in fair or poor health. The research, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, further revealed that a specific aspect of neuroticism related to worry and feelings of vulnerability was associated with lower mortality, regardless of self-reported health.

"Our findings are important because they suggest that being high in neuroticism may sometimes have a , perhaps by making people more vigilant about their ," says lead researcher Catharine R. Gale of the University of Edinburgh and University of Southampton.

By definition, people with high levels of neuroticism are more likely to experience negative emotions—including irritability, frustration, nervousness, worry, and guilt—compared with their peers who have lower levels of neuroticism. Studies investigating links between neuroticism and mortality have produced inconsistent results, with some showing higher risk of and others showing no relationship or even lower risk of death.

Drawing from existing evidence, Gale and colleagues hypothesized that the relationship between neuroticism and risk of death may depend on how people rate their health.

The researchers examined UK Biobank data collected from 502,655 people ages 37 to 73. Participants completed a validated personality assessment measuring neuroticism and indicated whether they thought they were in excellent, good, fair, or overall. The data also included information on participants' health behaviors (e.g., smoking, physical activity), physical health (e.g., body mass index, blood pressure), cognitive function, and medical diagnoses (e.g., heart problems, diabetes, cancer).

Examining death certificates from the National Health Service Central Registry, the researchers found that a total of 4,497 participants had died in the follow-up period (which was about 6.25 years, on average). In general, the data showed that mortality was slightly higher among participants with of neuroticism. However, when Gale and colleagues adjusted for participants' self-rated health, they found that the direction of the relationship reversed, with higher neuroticism being linked with slightly lower risk of death from all causes and from cancer.

"When we explored this further, we found that this protective effect was only present in people who rated their health as fair or poor," explains Gale. "We also found that people who scored highly on one aspect of neuroticism related to worry and vulnerability had a reduced risk of death regardless of how they rated their health."

Intriguingly, these relationships did not seem to vary according to participants' or medical diagnoses at the time they completed the neuroticism questionnaire, a finding which surprised the researchers.

"Health behaviors such as smoking, exercise, diet and alcohol consumption did not explain any part of the link between high scores on the worry/vulnerability facet and mortality risk. We had thought that greater worry or vulnerability might lead people to behave in a healthier way and hence lower their risk of death, but that was not the case," Gale says.

Following on these findings, Gale and colleagues plan to further investigate the different facets of to understand why worry and vulnerability may have specific protective effects.

Explore further: Outgoing people lead happier lives

More information: Catharine R. Gale et al, When Is Higher Neuroticism Protective Against Death? Findings From UK Biobank, Psychological Science (2017). DOI: 10.1177/0956797617709813

Related Stories

Outgoing people lead happier lives

July 17, 2013
Research from the University of Southampton has shown that young adults, who are more outgoing or more emotionally stable, are happier in later life than their more introverted or less emotionally stable peers.

Neuroticism predicts anxiety and depression disorders

January 27, 2016
A new Northwestern University and UCLA study has found for the first time that young people who are high on the personality trait of neuroticism are highly likely to develop both anxiety and depression disorders.

Healthy neurotic? Being conscientious may help

November 24, 2012
(HealthDay)—Being both neurotic and conscientious may be good for your health.

Elders' stress response may worsen depression's impact

January 17, 2017
UConn Health psychiatry researchers have found that vulnerability to stress increases the likelihood that elderly adults with major depression will experience cognitive decline in the future, and they recommend tailoring ...

Chronic worriers at higher risk for PTSD

December 17, 2012
People who worry constantly are at greater risk for post-traumatic stress disorder, according to new Michigan State University research published in the journal Psychological Medicine.

Recommended for you

Study provides hope that schizophrenia isn't as deep-rooted in affected individuals as previously believed

December 8, 2017
A schizophrenia patient's own perceptions of their experiences—and confidence in their judgments—may be factors that can help them overcome challenges to get the life they wish, suggests a new paper published in Clinical ...

The evolutionary advantage of the teenage brain

December 7, 2017
The mood swings, the fiery emotions, the delusions of immortality, all the things that make a teenager a teenager might just seem like a phase we all have to put up with. However, research increasingly shows that the behaviors ...

Study reveals gap in life expectancy for people with mental illness

December 7, 2017
New research from The Australian National University (ANU) has found that men who are diagnosed with a mental health condition in their lifetime can expect to live 10.2 years less than those who aren't, and women 7.3 years.

Reading on electronic devices may interfere with science reading comprehension

December 6, 2017
People who often read on electronic devices may have a difficult time understanding scientific concepts, according to a team of researchers. They suggest that this finding, among others in the study, could also offer insights ...

Study suggests giving kids too many toys stifles their creativity

December 6, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers at the University of Toledo in the U.S. has found that children are more creative when they have fewer toys to play with at one time. In their paper published in the journal Infant ...

Psychosis incidence highly variable internationally

December 6, 2017
Rates of psychosis can be close to eight times higher in some regions compared to others, finds a new study led by researchers at UCL, King's College London and the University of Cambridge.

0 comments

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.