Does our personality affect our health?

New year – new me. According to a study by the DAK-Gesundheit, a German health insurance provider, about 40% of Germans make New Year’s resolutions. The most popular one: taking more care of my health.
60% of these people want to achieve their goal by reducing or avoiding stress, 49% want to adopt a more healthy diet, 34% want to drop some pounds, and 16% and 11% respectively would like to reduce their alcohol and tobacco consumption (DAK).

When asked in late 2018, about half of the respondents said that they stuck to their resolutions at least in the medium run. The other half failed when it came to putting their plans into practice.
What are the reasons for these differences? Is it possible that a person’s individual personality affects their health? How much do character traits influence physical and mental well-being? Are there people who are more mindful of their health due to their personality than others?

concept m research + consulting has conducted a quantitative study on health, sports, and nutrition with 1,570 respondents. Using a shortened question matrix of the “big 5 personality test”, the participants’ basic personality profile has also been also examined.

According to Costa and McCrae (1999), human personality is built from five central factors which are known today as the “Big 5”:

1) Extraversion (outgoing, active, talkative),
2) Agreeableness (understanding, compassionate, cooperative),
3) Conscientiousness (diligent, dependable, organised),
4) Neuroticism (insecure, nervous, anxious),
5) Openness to experience (curious, inventive, adventurous).

Depending on how pronounced each factor is, every person has an individual personality profile.

In our study we linked personality factors with questions about health and preventative care, and have revealed that in general, people with a high level of neuroticism state having the worst overall health. Other personality traits have less impact on overall health. Becker (2000) provides a possible explanation for this: neuroticism can be a prospective indicator for, mainly, mental disorders like depression, phobias, and panic and anxiety disorders. Lower levels of neuroticism, on the other hand, are beneficial for health.

A potential negative impact of neuroticism becomes even more evident in regards to mindfulness of your personal health. This means being deliberately aware of your own mental and physical state. Participants with a high level of neuroticism show the lowest level of self-care. They also see their doctors less frequently for preventive check-ups than the other respondents. We therefore have not found any evidence for the often stated hypothesis that neurotic people consult their doctors more often for fear of possible diseases actually being true.
It does not come as a surprise that the respondents who are most conscientious are the ones who are also most mindful of their health. Conscientious people usually show high levels of self-discipline and tend to be able to resist “unhealthy indulgence”, which helps them have healthier habits.

As early as in 1991, the “rainbow model” (Whitehead, Dahlgren) showed that age, sex, and genetic predisposition (which are reflected in the manifestation of the Big 5) are predetermined factors. But there is a plethora of factors that influence our health beyond that. They depend mainly on our individual everyday behaviour, our life and work conditions, and our economic, cultural and psychological environment.

Authors:
Joanna Czock, Project Manager Quantitative
Manuela Ferdinand, Project Manager Quantitative

Bibliography:

Becker, P. (2002). Persönlichkeit und Gesundheit. In R. Schwarzer, M. Jerusalem & H. Weber (Ed.), Gesundheitspsychologie von A bis Z. Ein Handwörterbuch (pp. 384-388). Göttingen: Hogrefe.

McCrae, R. R., & Costa, P. T., Jr. (1999). A Five-Factor theory of personality. In L. A. Pervin & O. P. John (Eds.), Handbook of personality: Theory and research (S. 139-153). New York, NY, US: Guilford Press.

DAK-Gesundheit (2018): Vorsätze für das Jahr 2019. Accessed January 18, 2019, at https://www.dak.de/dak/download/studie-2038096.pdf

Dahlgren G, Whitehead M. (1991). Policies and Strategies to Promote Social Equity in Health. Stockholm, Sweden: Institute for Futures Studies.

For further information please contact:

Dr. Martin Schultze