The Personality and Longevity Connection

Have you ever wondered what helps certain people live extremely long lives? As you may have guessed, evidence suggests longevity is strongly related to genes. But the surprising finding is that the genes aren't only about physical characteristics. Science now says that specific personality traits are inherited, and those personality traits may be what help people reach a ripe old age.

Scientists at Boston University's medical school used the NEO-Five-Factor Inventory questionnaire to compare the personalities of centenarians' offspring with those of other people their age (the average of which was 75). The questionnaire, which measures neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness, yielded some surprising differences between the offspring of the oldest people and those of regular people against whom they were measured. Both male and female offspring of long-lived folks scored high in extraversion and low in neuroticism. The women also scored high in agreeableness, with the men in the normal range for agreeableness.

Why is this interesting? For one, the researchers note that men and women descended from "regular" folks normally score very differently from each other, whereas the male and female offspring of long-lived people were more alike than different. The scientists believe it's likely that their relative lack of neuroticism and their generally optimistic and sunny outlook fortifies them physically against the ravages of aging. People who aren't neurotic tend to handle stress well, which protects them from disease, and extraverted people tend to have plenty of strong relationships in their lives that help them stay healthy. Indeed, previous research of centenarians' offspring has revealed a mortality rate 120 percent lower than that of the offspring of people who didn't live to a ripe old age. The research also shows substantially lower rates and later onsets of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes compared with the offspring of more typical people.

Is having parents who lived a long time a guarantee of longevity? It helps, but it's no more a guarantee than having a sour disposition guarantees an early demise. Although some components of our personality are hereditary, people certainly can improve their odds of living longer by making an effort to be positive, friendly, and easygoing, and to fortify the relationships in their lives.


Source: Dr. Thomas Perls, Boston University Medical School