The “Big Five” personality traits may be valuable indicators of an individual’s long-term health and could offer physicians an opportunity to intervene early with appropriate treatment, according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association (APA).
The five traits – conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism and openness to experience – provide a foundation for assessing personality, the APA noted in a March 2014 news release.
By considering personality along with a patient’s health habits and family history, doctors could better develop preventive healthcare options, according to the study, which appeared in the APA’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
The researchers found that measuring personality traits “may be an inexpensive and accessible way to identify which young adults are in need of their doctors’ attention to promote a healthy lifestyle while they are yet young, in time to prevent disease onset.”
The findings could have added significance if increasing numbers of young adults sign up for health insurance through the federal Affordable Care Act, the researchers wrote.
In a statement, the APA’s executive director, Norman B. Anderson, said that healthcare must include consideration of how personality affects a patient’s behaviors and attitudes.
The researchers found that conscientiousness seems to be most important factor among the Big Five traits: study participants assessed as more conscientious at age 26 had a higher likelihood of being in better health at age 38.
Meanwhile, 45% of the participants assessed as the least conscientious had developed numerous health problems by age 38, the study’s lead author, Salomon Israel of Duke University, told the APA.
Those individuals were at higher risk of having high cholesterol and hypertension, among other medical issues. Conscientious individuals, by comparison, were more apt to lead an active lifestyle and enjoy a healthy diet, and participated less in risky behavior, such as abusing alcohol or drugs.
The research involved data culled from a New Zealand study that examined about 1,000 people born in 1972 or 1973. The individuals were assessed at approximately two-year intervals from birth to age 38. Researchers also incorporated data relating to participants’ income, education, weight, smoking habits and family health history.
In the new study, the researchers noted that personality assessments could provide medical providers with a heightened awareness of their patients’ lifestyle preferences. That, in turn, could allow for more collaboration on preventive care options and treatment plans.
“Personality traits can be measured cheaply, easily and reliably, and these traits are stable over many years and have far-ranging effects on health,” Israel said.