New research suggests that personality traits, such as being outgoing, optimistic, and easygoing, are just as important as “good genes” in reaching the age of 100 and beyond.
Scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology of Yeshiva University also found that staying engaged in activities is an important factor in longevity.
The findings, published online in the journal Aging, come from Einstein’s Longevity Genes Project, which includes over 500 Ashkenazi Jews over the age of 95 and 700 of their offspring. Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews were selected because they are genetically homogeneous, making it easier to spot genetic differences, researchers explain.
The study of 243 centenarians, mostly women (75 percent) with an average age of 97.6 years, was aimed at detecting genetically-based personality characteristics by a new measure called the Personality Outlook Profile Scale (POPS).
“When I started working with centenarians, I thought we’d find that they survived so long in part because they were mean and ornery,” said Nir Barzilai, M.D., director of Einstein’s Institute for Aging Research and co-corresponding author of the study. “But when we assessed the personalities of these 243 centenarians, we found qualities that clearly reflect a positive attitude toward life. Most were outgoing, optimistic and easygoing. They considered laughter an important part of life and had a large social network. They expressed emotions openly rather than bottling them up.”
The centenarians also had lower scores for displaying neurotic personalities and higher scores for being conscientious compared with a representative sample of the U.S. population, the researcher noted.
“Some evidence indicates that personality can change between the ages of 70 and 100, so we don’t know whether our centenarians have maintained their personality traits across their entire lifespans,” continued Barzilai. “Nevertheless, our findings suggest that centenarians share particular personality traits and that genetically-based aspects of personality may play an important role in achieving both good health and exceptional longevity.”
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