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If You Lack This Personality Trait, Your Risk of Early Death Skyrockets

Scientists have long known that conscientious people live longer. Now, they're figuring out why.

Scientists have long known that there's a link between your personality and your lifespan. In 2004, for instance, a team of researchers studying the lives of more than 800 Catholic clergy members discovered that those who had a "high neurotic score" had a risk of early death that was nearly double that of those with a "low neurotic score." Meanwhile, those who were considered conscientious? They had a much, much lower risk of early death. This week, a new study published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity offers at least one science-backed explanation for how your personality affects your health—and it has everything to do with your immune system.

"It has been shown that people scoring lower on the personality trait of conscientiousness (a tendency to be responsible, organized, and capable of self-control) can be at a 40% increased risk of future death compared to their higher scoring counterparts," observes Dr. Páraic Ó Súilleabháin, a lecturer in psychology and a research coordinator on the doctoral program in clinical psychology at Ireland's University of Limerick, which spearheaded the study with help from researchers at American and German universities. "What is not clear is how this could happen, and importantly, what biological pathway might be responsible for this link."

The researchers focused on two biological markers that "are central to the immune system"—interleukin-6 and c-reactive protein—which are known to be major factors in aging. The research teams analyzed data from nearly 1,000 adults who "were examined over a 14-year period," and they were able to link those with high levels of conscientiousness and one of those biomarkers.

"We found that part of the reason why people who score higher on the personality trait of conscientiousness live longer is as a result of their immune system, specifically due to lower levels of interleukin-6," explained Ó Súilleabháin. "There are likely further biological mechanisms that are yet to be discovered which will give a clearer picture of all the different ways that our personalities are so critical to our long-term health."

If you're concerned that you're not behaving so conscientiously of late, don't worry—some people are naturally that way, but others can take steps to improve. That's why we've listed four of the ways you can be a more conscientious person right here, all according to the leading health experts at Harvard Medical School. So read on, and live long and prosper! And for more important health news you can use, make sure you're aware of The One Major Side Effect of Sitting on the Couch Too Much, According to a New Study.

Focus on small and specific tasks.

organized desk

"Resolving to be more conscientious probably won't get you very far," write the experts at Harvard. "But if you set your mind on being punctual or organizing your desk, you might have more success."

Stick to your daily plans.


"Setting your own schedule and then following through on it encourages organization and self-discipline," says Harvard.

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Always use reminders to your advantage.

scrolling on a phone
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"If you're not naturally conscientious, it can be easy to stray off course. Computers and smartphones have reminder tools."

Keep a healthy social life.

Friends laughing while eating dinner

"Conscientiousness is fundamentally social, so staying in touch with family and having friends can encourage conscientious behaviors like being on time and expressing gratitude." And if you're looking for a healthier view on the world, don't miss our list of 50 Foods That Will Make You Feel Instantly Better.

William Mayle
William Mayle is a UK-based writer who specializes in science, health, fitness, and other lifestyle topics. Read more about William
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