Emerging research suggests some aspects of our personality appear to be associated with our immune system. The link to the immune system may influence our health and well-being.
Investigators found that two key traits — a person’s degree of extraversion and conscientiousness — were associated with immune system health.
Surprisingly, the study did not find any results to support the common theory that tendencies toward negative emotions such as depression or anxiety can lead to poor health (disease-prone personality).
Still, the observations discovered by researchers provide new evidence that explains how some aspects of our personality may affect our health and well-being.
The findings confirm long-observed associations between aspects of human character, physical health, and longevity.
Health psychologists at The University of Nottingham and the University of California in Los Angeles examined the relationship between certain personality traits and the expression of genes. The genes that were studied control the activity of our immune systems thereby affecting health.
Researchers found that people who scored high on traits of extraversion and conscientiousness had higher levels of genes that improve the immune system.
The study used highly sensitive microarray technology to examine relationships between the five major human personality traits and two groups of genes active in human white blood cells (leukocytes): one involving inflammation, and another involving antiviral responses and antibodies.
A group of 121 ethnically diverse and healthy adults were recruited. These were comprised of 86 females and 35 males with an average age of 24 (range 18-59) and an average body mass index of 23.
The participants completed a personality test which measures five major dimensions of personality — extraversion, neuroticism, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.
Blood samples were then collected from each volunteer for gene expression analysis and their typical smoking, drinking, and exercise behaviors were also recorded for control purposes.
Professor Kavita Vedhara, from The University of Nottingham’s School of Medicine, comments:
“Our results indicated that ‘extraversion’ was significantly associated with an increased expression of pro-inflammatory genes and that ‘conscientiousness’ was linked to a reduced expression of pro-inflammatory genes.
“In other words, individuals who we would expect to be exposed to more infections as a result of their socially orientated nature (i.e., extraverts) appear to have immune systems that we would expect can deal effectively with infection. While individuals who may be less exposed to infections because of their cautious/conscientious dispositions have immune systems that may respond less well.
“We can’t, however, say which came first. Is this our biology determining our psychology or our psychology determining our biology?”
Researchers say the association between the two personality traits and the genetic display are separate from the recorded health behaviors of the participants.
They were also independent of the amount of negative emotions people experienced. The study also found that expression of antiviral/antibody-related genes was not significantly associated with any personality dimension.
In the remaining three categories of personality, ‘openness’ also trended towards a reduced expression of pro-inflammatory genes and ‘neuroticism’ and ‘agreeableness’ remained unassociated with gene expression.
The research concludes that although the biological mechanisms of these associations need to be explored in future research, these new data may shed new light on the long-observed epidemiological associations between personality, physical health, and human longevity.
The study may be found online in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.
Source: University of Nottingham