‘Healthy Neuroticism’ Lowers Risk of Chronic Disease


Neuroticism personified in Woody Allen. Credit: Photo by Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters

Neurotic people, such as anxious worriers, depressives, and those who have a temper, might not be very healthy, especially when compared to people who demonstrate openness, extroversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. However, researchers at the University of Rochester have shown that neuroticism leads to lower levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6), a biomarker for inflammation. Inflammation is linked to disease, stroke, asthma, diabetes, arthritis, and some cancers.

The scientists published their findings in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity. The study followed 1,054 adults over 5 years.

The researchers examined the way personality traits influence biology, finding that neuroticism was associated with decreased levels of IL-6 and the association grew stronger for patients who scored high for conscientiousness. The 441 subjects who scored moderate to high for these personality traits had lower IL-6 levels than those who were high in only one or the other. They also had lower BMIs and fewer diagnosed chronic health conditions.

The researchers concluded that when accompanied with high levels of conscientiousness, neuroticism may be associated with health benefits. These people are likely to weigh the consequences of their actions and not engage as much in risky behavior. Neuroticism could also translate into hyper-vigilance about healthy living, sending people to quickly seek treatment when they detect health problems.

Reference: “Big 5 personality traits and interleukin-6: Evidence for “healthy Neuroticism” in a US population sample” by Nicholas A. Turiano, Daniel K. Mroczek, Jan Moynihan and Benjamin P. Chapman, 31 October 2012, Brain, Behavior and Immunity.
DOI: 10.1016/j.bbi.2012.10.020

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