Conscientious People Live Longer

Oct 29, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- Conscientious people live longer, according to a study by University of California, Riverside researchers that appears in the latest issue of Health Psychology (vol. 27, 2008), the journal of the American Psychological Association.

Howard S. Friedman, distinguished professor of psychology, and graduate student Margaret L. Kern analyzed data from 20 studies that focused on conscientiousness-related traits and longevity, and involved more than 8,900 participants from the United States, Canada, Germany, Norway, Japan and Sweden.

“The major finding is that this conscientiousness aspect of personality is indeed reliably predictive of mortality risk across studies,” Friedman said. “This seems to be as important as most commonly assessed medical risk factors, few of which are psychological.”

Friedman said that although this combined analysis did not focus directly on explaining why conscientiousness is a predictor of longevity, his previous research suggests reasons that fit with this new study.

“Not only do conscientious individuals have better health habits and less risk-taking, but they also travel life pathways toward healthier psychosocial environments – such as more stable jobs and marriages – and may even have a biological predisposition toward good health,” he said.

The new study follows previous research of Friedman’s which first suggested that conscientious individuals live longer. That study, based on follow-up with participants in the eight-decade Terman Life Cycle Study, discovered that conscientiousness measured in childhood could predict longevity decades into the future. It found higher levels of conscientiousness, as rated by parents and teachers in 1922, were significantly related to longer life.

Highly conscientious people live on average two to four years longer, are less likely to smoke or drink to excess, and live more stable and less stressful lives, Friedman and Kern found.

Friedman and Kern conducted a meta-analysis – the quantitative synthesis of existing studies – for three specific facets of conscientiousness: responsibility/self-control (socially responsible, self-controlled, not impulsive); order (organized, efficient, disciplined); and achievement (achievement oriented, persistent, industrious). They found that achievement and order were the strongest facets of conscientiousness linked to longevity.

“There is some evidence that people can become more conscientious, especially as they enter stable jobs or good marriages,” Kern said. “We think our findings can challenge people to think about their lives and what may result from the actions they do. Even though conscientiousness cannot be changed in the short term, improvements can emerge over the long run as individuals enter responsible relationships, careers and associations.”

In the last decade researchers have found evidence which suggests that personality plays an important role in health-related processes. However, studies linking personality with objective health outcomes, such as cardiovascular heart disease, have primarily focused on negative traits, such as depression, Type A behavior and hostility, Friedman and Kern said.

Increasing attention is focusing on conscientiousness, which can be expressed in traits including organization, thoroughness, reliability, competence, order, dutifulness, achievement striving, self-discipline, and deliberation.

“On the practical side, personality is indeed an important, health-relevant component of personhood, and treatment decisions and long-term interventions should consider how personality may contribute to, or detract from, health,” the researchers wrote. “On the conceptual side, it appears important to understand how individual differences – especially involving conscientiousness – cause and are shaped by trajectories and events across the life span.”

Future studies should consider both psychosocial and biological mechanisms linking conscientiousness and longevity, as well as their interactions or synergies, Friedman and Kern said.

“Personality is important to health, and future research should consider precisely why this is, and the best ways this knowledge can be used to improve people’s health,” Friedman said.

Provided by UC Riverside

Explore further: Study finds link between beat synchronization in preschoolers and learning reading skills

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Hire like Google? For most companies, that's a bad idea

Mar 12, 2014

Laszlo Bock, the head of human resources at Google, made quite a splash with his announcement last year that the technology firm has changed the way it hires people. Gone are the brainteaser-style interview questions that ...

Recommended for you

Video blinds us to the evidence, study finds

1 hour ago

Where people look when watching video evidence varies wildly and has profound consequences for bias in legal punishment decisions, a team of researchers at New York University and Yale Law School has found. ...

75 years after his death, Vienna struggles with Freud

8 hours ago

Even before Sigmund Freud fled Hitler on the Orient Express from Vienna in June 1938, the father of psychoanalysis and his ideas about sex, dreams and cocaine divided opinion in the Austrian capital.

User comments : 7

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Thadieus
5 / 5 (1) Oct 29, 2008
Mean people suck- now they die young. Sounds like Karma to me
treadmillchinafactory
not rated yet Oct 30, 2008
nice
johanfprins
1 / 5 (1) Oct 30, 2008
yes
fingersinterlaced
not rated yet Oct 30, 2008
Tom Robbins has been saying this for years - at least that's what I got from his books :)
ShadowRam
not rated yet Oct 30, 2008
So how long and how much did it take to state the obvious?
earls
not rated yet Oct 30, 2008
So long that the original researchers died before becoming conscientious of their research.
holmstar
not rated yet Oct 30, 2008
So people who are careful tend to live longer? NO FREAKIN WAY! I DON'T BELIEVE IT!