"Our findings are important because they suggest that being high in neuroticism may sometimes have a protective effect, perhaps by making people more vigilant about their health," says lead researcher Catharine R. Gale of the University of Edinburgh and University of Southampton.
By definition, people with high levels of neuroticism are more likely to experience negative emotions--including irritability, frustration, nervousness, worry, and guilt--compared with their peers who have lower levels of neuroticism. Studies investigating links between neuroticism and mortality have produced inconsistent results, with some showing higher risk of death and others showing no relationship or even lower risk of death. Drawing from existing evidence, Gale and colleagues hypothesized that the relationship between neuroticism and risk of death may depend on how people rate their health.
The researchers examined UK Biobank data collected from 502,655 people ages 37 to 73. Participants completed a validated personality assessment measuring neuroticism and indicated whether they thought they were in excellent, good, fair, or poor health overall. The data also included information on participants' health behaviors (e.g., smoking, physical activity), physical health (e.g., body mass index, blood pressure), cognitive function, and medical diagnoses (e.g., heart problems, diabetes, cancer).