Does Neuroticism Help People Live Longer?

Fagjun | Published 2017-08-04 19:25

Photo by David Marcu


Neuroticism isn't really something that people consider to be a good thing, but maybe it is in some way. A new study has found that neurotic people may live longer than those who take a more relaxed approach to life.


What are neurotic people like anyway? Think of what Woody Allen is like, and you'd have a pretty good representation of what neurotic people are like. They're frequently nervous, stressed, anxious about something or other, quick to anger, full of worry, fear, and frustration. Weirdly enough, those aren't the kind of traits we'd expect to find in people who can outlive those with a more relaxed attitude toward life.


According to the study, neurotic tendencies may help people live longer. This, however, depends on what kind of neurotic you are and how you view your health.


Health and Neurotic Behavior

Photo by Nikko Macaspac


There's something that psychologists call the “Big Five” psychological traits. Neuroticism is one of them, and the rest are extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness to experience. Being neurotic has a more negative connotation than the other traits, but people who have this trait aren't necessarily bad. They just have issues with confidence and self-consciousness.


Researchers analyzed data on a little over half a million people living in the United Kingdom, aged 37 to 73. They asked participants to complete a personality test, as well as answer questions about how they felt about their health. The researchers also took the participants' self-rated health, lifestyle, and habits into account, as well as mortality risk and the likelihood of chronic disease. After six and a quarter years, the researchers checked up on the participants again.


Upon analysis, the team found that neurotic people had somewhat of a higher mortality risk. However, it was the participants' health self-rating that changed the results. Participants who felt that their health was poorer had a tendency to live longer, and had a lower risk of dying of all causes of death, including cancer.


The type of neurotic behavior also made a difference. The two types of anxious behavior are anxious-tense and worried-vulnerable. People with the worried-vulnerable type of behavior tended to live longer than those who had the other type.


How Neuroticism Keeps Us Alive

Photo by Henk Vrieselaar


What's the difference between these two types anyway?


Anxious-tense people would call themselves nervous, tense, and highly-strung. They would also say that they suffer from “nerves”. Worried-vulnerable people, meanwhile, are the ones that worry a lot, are quite sensitive, and tend to frequently have feelings of guilt.


It turns out that worrying benefits one's health. Researchers say that being a worrier makes a person seek out medical advice and treatments more often. This can lead to catching diseases early or generally maintaining a healthier lifestyle.


It's important to note, however, that the study does have its limitations. For example, the researchers say it's possible that they did not have enough data on the participants' health choices that can affect longevity. The researchers also only kept track of the participants for six years, which may not be enough time to make these kinds of conclusions.


In any case, what we can take away from this is that neuroticism isn't all negative. Not only do neurotic people tend to live longer lives, they also tend to be more creative and imaginative. Just ask Woody Allen.

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