When we think about ways to live a longer life, we usually focus on things like diet and exercise. It turns out, having more of a certain personality trait can make a big difference, too. Over the years, experts have found a compelling link between higher levels of conscientiousness and longevity.
Conscientiousness is one of the “Big Five” personality traits studied in psychology along with extraversion, agreeableness, openness, and neuroticism. It’s believed everyone has varying degrees of each of these which make up our overall personality. Someone with more conscientiousness is described as responsible, hard-working, goal-oriented, rule-following, self-controlled, reliable, and industrious. They definitely aren’t known for being spontaneous, rebellious, or someone who flies by the seat of their pants.
Noam Shpancer, PhD, a psychologist and professor at Otterbein College in Ohio, reviewed several studies with decades of data observing various personality traits and their effects on mortality. He concluded, “When it comes to longevity, the trait of conscientiousness appears to be the most consequential predictor.”
For example, he cites a 2019 study that took place over a 20-year span and showed that “lower conscientiousness predicted increased death risk via the direct, indirect, and total effect of sleep duration.” Another from 2018 found that higher conscientiousness was linked to “healthier metabolic, cardiovascular, and inflammatory markers, and better performance on physical assessments.” Dr. Shpancer even quotes a study published just this month which found individuals with more conscientiousness also had stronger immune systems, which helped them to live longer.
If you’re unsure where you stand on the scale of conscientiousness and the other Big Five personality traits, you can easily find assessments online. Shpancer links to one from the University of Texas that can clear things up.
And if you find yourself lacking when it comes to qualities of conscientiousness, there’s no need to start worrying about your lifespan just yet. Shpancer claims research has also found the trait tends to naturally get stronger as we age.
He also says we can learn to be more conscientious through purposeful practice. Harvard Medical School recommends a few simple things like focusing on specifics, making daily plans (and sticking to them), setting reminders, and staying social.
Here’s hoping we can all embrace a more conscientious attitude and have it pay off throughout a long, healthy life!