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A rare piece of research published recently in an online issue of the Journal of Research in Personality, finds that individuals who are even-tempered and outgoing in young adulthood turn into happier, more satisfied seniors than their moodier and more introverted peers.
Led by the University of Southampton in the UK, the study examines the link between personality measured in youth and wellbeing assessed four decades later, and also how psychological and physical health relates to the link.
Lead author Dr. Catharine Gale, reader in epidemiology at Southampton, says in a statement:
"Few studies have examined the long-term influence of personality traits in youth on happiness and life satisfaction later in life."
Dr. Gale and her colleagues compared measures of neuroticism and extraversion assessed at 16 and 26 years of age, with measures of mental wellbeing and life satisfaction assessed between the ages of 60 and 64 years.
The study participants were 4,583 people taking part in the National Survey for Health and Development, which is run by the Medical Research Council. All subjects were born in 1946, and completed short personality questionnaires at age 16 and again at age 26.
To assess extraversion, the questionnaires asked the participants about their:
To assess neuroticism, answers were taken to questions about:
Then some forty years later, when the subjects were aged between 60 and 64, over half of them completed questionnaires designed to measure well-being and satisfaction with life, plus assess mental and physical health.
The team found a distinct pattern when they analyzed the data. They found that personality traits shaped by early adulthood appear to have an enduring influence decades later, as Dr. Gale explains:
"We found that extraversion in youth had direct, positive effects on wellbeing and life satisfaction in later life. Neuroticism, in contrast, had a negative impact, largely because it tends to make people more susceptible to feelings of anxiety and depression and to physical health problems."
Thus, higher scores on extraversion (having more energy, being more outgoing, sociable and active) in young adulthood was directly linked to higher scores for wellbeing and life satisfaction decades later.
But neuroticism had a distinctly different pattern. Higher neuroticism scores (being moody, emotionally unstable, and less focused or easily distracted) correlated with lower levels of wellbeing, but the link was indirect.
Instead, higher neuroticism scores in young adulthood were linked to being more susceptible to stress in senior years, and also to having more health problems, although this link was not as strong.
Dr. Gale says it is important to do such studies and find out how happy people feel as they get older because research shows happier people live longer.
"Personality in youth appears to have an enduring influence on happiness decades later," she adds.
The team did not look at whether it is possible to alter one's personality, for example whether a young person can change from being mainly intraverted to mainly extraverted, or whether they can become less neurotic.
The world of psychology has been somewhat divided on that question, and until recently, the prevailing view was that you cannot change personality traits like extraversion and neuroticism - they are too deep-seated, like "personality DNA".But the tide could be turning, if a study published in the journal Social Indicators Research in 2012 is anything to go by. It found that even deep-seated personality traits, including extraversion and neuroticism, can and do change over time, and these changes are strongly related to changes in wellbeing.
If more studies find the same, then we may see a shift in government health policies, which have tended to focus on factors such as income, employment and family as means to increase happiness and wellbeing - even though they have less impact on life satisfaction than personality - because they can be changed.
Watch this space, as they say.Written by Catharine Paddock PhD
Copyright: Medical News Today
Not to be reproduced without the permission of Medical News Today.
"Neuroticism and extraversion in youth predict mental wellbeing and life satisfaction 40 years later", Journal of Research In Personality, in press, available online 26 June 2013 - DOI:10.1016/j.jrp.2013.06.005.Abstract
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Paddock, Catharine. "Outgoing youngsters turn out happier in later life." Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 19 Jul. 2013. Web.
13 Dec. 2013. <http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/263628>
Paddock, C. (2013, July 19). "Outgoing youngsters turn out happier in later life." Medical News Today. Retrieved from
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