Personality and Health

Personality is intimately related to health behaviors, the likelihood of getting certain illnesses, and how people respond to their prognosis after receiving health news. As a result, personality is one of the most robust predictors of premature mortality. Our lab uses a number of large scale panel studies to better understand the many ways personality affects health processes. Current questions:

  • How does personality influence adherence to doctors orders?
  • Do life events change personality?
  • Are changes in personality associated with changes in health behaviors?
  • How does early life personality influence cumulative personality processes differently than later adulthood personality?

One current means of investigating personality-health relationships uses the SPAN (St. Louis Personality and Aging Network) study.

The SPAN study is a longitudinal study examining the development and impact of personality in later life. The participants include a representative sample of adults living in the St. Louis area that were between 55 and 64 during the first wave of assessment in 2007. Phase I of the SPAN study resulted in multiple assessments of personality, social functioning, and physical and mental health across a span of 4 years. With recent funding from NIA, Phase II is about to begin. In Phase II we plan to continue to follow up our participants to address how personality influences health in older adulthood. First, what assessments or measures of personality (e.g., self vs other, normal vs abnormal, broad vs facet) best predict later health maladies? Second, do physiological markers (e.g., IL-6) mediate the relationship between personality and physical health? Third, do changes in personality play a role in the health process?