Personality Impacts On Mental Health, Longevity And Decision-Making
January 20, 2013

Personality Traits Can Impact Decision Making And Overall Health

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

In addition to making individuals more outgoing or sociable, extraversion also makes people more likely to favor immediate rewards over delayed gratification — even if waiting means that the ultimate reward will be larger, according to the results of a new study presented late last week.

University of Minnesota researcher Colin DeYoung and colleagues recruited subjects to better understand how being an extravert or an introvert can impact the way in which a person´s brain makes decisions. The results of that study were presented Thursday, January 17 at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) in New Orleans.

In their study, DeYoung´s team scanned study participants using an fMRI and asked each to choose between a smaller reward that they could have immediately, or a larger one which they would have to wait on — for example, being paid $15 that same day or waiting three weeks for a $25 stipend.

“They then correlated their choices and associated brain activity to various personality traits,” the SPSP explained in a statement. “They found that extraversion predicts neural activity in a region of the brain called the medial orbitofrontal cortex, which is involved in evaluating rewards. In the task, this region responded more strongly to the possibility of immediate rewards than to the possibility of delayed rewards.”

"This is a brain region where we have previously shown that extraversion predicts the size of the region, so our new study provides some converging evidence for the importance of sensitivity to reward as the basis of extraversion,” DeYoung said. The study is part of the research´s ultimate goal of trying to explain “the most important personality traits, what psychological processes those traits represent, and how those processes are generated by the brain.”

"The brain is an incredibly complicated system, and I think it´s impressive that neuroscience is making such great progress in understanding it. Linking brain function to personality is another step in understanding how the brain makes us who we are,” he added. "Understanding how people differ from each other and how that affects various outcomes is something that we all do on an intuitive basis, but personality psychology attempts to bring scientific rigor to this process“¦ Personality affects academic and job performance, social and political attitudes, the quality and stability of social relationships, physical health and mortality, and risk for mental disorder.”

In similar research, experts have started to link a person´s personality with their long term health, the SPSP reported. Specifically, new lifespan models which measure identity characteristics and health at several key points during an individual´s life have found that those traits, not just genetics and environmental factors, help influence his or her physical well-being.

One such study, conducted by Sarah Hampson of the Oregon Research Institute and scheduled to be published in the journal Health Psychology, discovered that “children lower in conscientiousness — traits including being irresponsible and careless — had worse health 40 years later, including greater obesity and higher cholesterol.”

“The study builds on past work showing that more conscientious children live longer,” the Society said. “The data come from more than 2,000 elementary school children in Hawaii who received personality assessments in the 1960s. Funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute of Aging, researchers were able to complete medical and psychological examinations for 60% of the original group, who, as adults, agreed to further studies starting in 1998. They found that the children rated by their teachers as less conscientious had worse health status as adults, particularly for their cardiovascular and metabolic systems.”

The research, Hampson told the SPSP, could help develop childhood intervention programs that reach boys and girls at a time when their lifelong habits are first becoming established, guiding them to make positive personality changes that will ultimately lead to health benefits later on in life. Specifically, she suggests that their findings could help parents and educators to help teach youngsters the importance of self-control, preparation and planning, and delayed gratification, among other “pro-social, self-regulated” behaviors.