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Your Personality May Safeguard Your Aging Brain

Amy Norton wrote . . . . . . . . .

Certain personality traits may make older adults more or less vulnerable to waning memory and thinking skills, a new study suggests.

The study, of nearly 2,000 older adults, found that those high on the “conscientious” scale — organized, self-disciplined and productive — were less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment. That refers to subtler problems with memory and other mental skills that sometimes precede dementia.

On the other end of the spectrum were older folks high in neuroticism — a tendency to be anxious, moody and vulnerable to stress. They had an increased risk of developing mild cognitive impairment, versus people low on the neuroticism scale.

The findings, published April 11 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, add to evidence linking personality to cognitive health as we age.

Personality matters, experts said, because it influences health-related choices ranging from exercise to smoking, as well as broader attitudes — including whether you believe you can make positive changes.

“Personality traits reflect an individual’s persistent patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving,” said Tomiko Yoneda, a postdoctoral researcher at Northwestern University in Chicago, who led the study.

People who are high in conscientiousness, for example, are inclined to eat well, exercise and engage in other healthy behaviors, while avoiding risks like smoking.

Those tendencies may explain their lower risk of developing mild cognitive impairment, according to Yoneda, who was based at the University of Victoria, in Canada, at the time of the study.

In contrast, she said, people high on the neuroticism scale often have “unhealthy coping styles” to deal with anxiety, depression and emotional instability.

Angelina Sutin is a professor at Florida State University College of Medicine who studies personality traits and health.

Sutin agreed that lifestyle behaviors, over the course of a lifetime, are likely a major reason that personality traits are associated with older adults’ memory and thinking skills.

But it goes beyond things like diet, exercise and smoking, too, Sutin said. Personality influences a person’s likelihood of exploring new experiences, for example, or being socially active. Both mental and social stimulation are thought to support healthy brain aging.

There is also evidence linking personality traits to the likelihood of having chronic low-level inflammation in the body — a state that can contribute to a range of diseases.

But lest anxious people get anxious about developing cognitive impairment, Sutin stressed that personality is not “destiny.”

Cognitive decline and dementia are complex, with many factors coming into play. And while personality tends to be relatively stable throughout life, it is not set in stone, either.

Both Sutin and Yoneda pointed to research showing that personality can be nudged in a positive direction when people make concerted efforts to notice and alter certain habitual thoughts and behaviors.

People high in neuroticism, for example, can improve their emotional stability, while dedicated introverts can come out of their shells a bit to be more socially engaged.

“You won’t radically change who you are,” Sutin said. Instead, she added, it’s about making achievable shifts: People high on the neuroticism scale, for instance, could decide to be a little more organized in their daily routines.

The current findings are based on 1,954 older adults who were part of a long-term study of memory and aging that began in the 1990s. Participants answered standard questions gauging personality traits, and then had annual assessments of their cognitive skills, for up to 23 years.

Overall, Yoneda’s team found, the odds of developing mild impairment declined 22% for each 6-point increase on the conscientiousness scale (which ranges from 0 to 48). In contrast, that risk rose by 12% with every 7-point jump on the neuroticism scale (also 0 to 48).

In a related finding, highly conscientious seniors also lived longer in good cognitive health: An 80-year-old, for example, could expect to live an extra two years without impairment, versus a peer who was low on the conscientiousness scale.

Again, though, Sutin stressed that people do not have to be ruled by their personalities.

Instead, she said, understanding your own personality, and how it motivates your thinking and behavior, is helpful: You may be able to “take a step back” when a stressful situation arises, and choose a better coping strategy.


Source: HealthDay

Study: Agreeableness a Helpful Trait for General Success in Life

Matt McGowan wrote . . . . . . . . .

Following a major study of the effects of personality on job performance, researchers zoomed in on one personality trait – agreeableness – and found that it has a desirable effect on hundreds of physical, psychological and occupational metrics that impact not only job performance but general life success.

Michael Wilmot, assistant professor of management at the University of Arkansas, and Deniz Ones, professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota, examined a wide range of variables, from psychological and physical health to interpersonal relationships, and from leadership effectiveness to performance in academic and organizational settings.

To better understand the impact of agreeableness, the researchers summarized results from 142 meta-analyses reporting effects for 275 variables. In all, the results comprised more than 1.9 million participants from roughly 3,900 studies. Meta-analysis is a process used to systematically merge multiple independent findings using statistical methods to calculate an overall effect.

Wilmot and Ones found that agreeableness had a desirable effect on 93% of variables and outcomes.

“We wanted to do a quantitative summary and synthesis of what we have learned about relations between agreeableness, one of the so-called Big 5 personality traits, and its consequences,” Wilmot said. “We know this is important – perhaps now more than ever – because agreeableness is the personality trait primarily concerned with helping people and building positive relationships, which is not lost on organizational leaders.”

In their previous study, Wilmot and Ones combined multiple meta-analyses of the five big personality traits — conscientiousness, extraversion, openness and neuroticism, in addition to agreeableness — and examined their effect on job performance. They found that relationships between personality traits and performance varied greatly across nine major occupational groups.

To clarify and emphasize the importance of agreeableness, the researchers organized the 275 variables into broader conceptual categories. These included physical and psychological health, performance, motivation and success.

Wilmot and Ones also synthesized eight themes that captured the characteristic functioning of agreeableness across all variables and categories. The themes illustrated the essence of how agreeableness is helpful to both individuals and organizations. The themes were:

  • Self-transcendence – Having aspirations for self-directed growth and motivation to show care and concern for others.
  • Contentment – Accepting life as it is, and an ability to successfully adjust to new contexts and institutions.
  • Relational investment – Motivation to cultivate and maintain positive relationships with others.
  • Teamworking – Empathetic capacity to coordinate goals with others and ability to cooperate effectively, regardless of role, to accomplish collective objectives.
  • Work investment – Willingness to expend effort on tasks, do quality work and show a responsiveness to the work environment.
  • Lower results emphasis – A generally lower emphasis on setting goals and producing individual results and a tendency to rate others’ performance with greater leniency.
  • Social norm orientation – Greater sensitivity to and respect for behavioral compliance with social norms and rules and avoidance of rule-breaking and wrongdoing.
  • Social integration – Capacity for successful integration into social roles and institutions and a reduced likelihood of delinquency, antisocial behavior and turnover.

“Taken altogether, the interaction among the themes became clear,” Wilmot said. “Agreeableness was marked by work investment, but this energy was best directed at helping or cooperating with others. In other words, teamwork.”

The researchers’ findings have been published in the Spring issue of Personality and Social Psychology Review.


Source : University of Arkansas