According to The Atlantic, researchers working at the University of Rochester have been evaluating the effect that various personality traits have not only on our mental and emotional states but our biology as well. The results? Scientists found that people who exhibit signs of neuroticism actually had lower levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6), a biomarker related to inflammation. These findings went against the initial hypothesis of the study authors. Additionally, IL-6 levels were even lower in neurotic participants who also scored high for conscientiousness.
According to Medical News Today, neuroticism is a long-term negative emotional state that affects a variety of people. Those who deal with neurosis are highly sensitive to environmental anxiety and stress. Neuroticism also often leaves people feeling self-conscious and shy and can lead to frequent and intense depression, guilt, anger, envy, and anxiety. This is in addition to a propensity for internalizing and bottling up long-held phobias and neuroses like aggression and panic disorders, said the source.
However, it turns out that affected individuals who score lower in tests for IL-6 may actually be benefitting their health instead of hurting it. This is because inflammation is associated with health conditions ranging from strokes, certain forms of cancer, asthma, diabetes, heart disease and arthritis, reported The Atlantic. But neuroticism leads to reduced levels of inflammation.
“These people are likely to weigh the consequences of their actions, and therefore their level of neuroticism [coupled] with conscientiousness probably stops them from engaging in risky behaviors,” said lead study author Nicholas Turiano. This means that neurotic people are likely to engage in frequent preventative care to maintain healthy habits. In addition, the study found that these people generally had lower body mass indexes (BMIs) and a reduced number of chronic health issues.
Turiano and his colleagues at the University of Rochester surveyed more than 1,000 adults taken from the National Survey of Midlife Development in the U.S. (MIDUS) database for the report, according to The Daily Mail. Their research included a full clinical-based health evaluation to gather information on disease biomarkers, physiological function, and personality traits. Out of the nearly 1,000 participants, 441 scored high for levels of neuroticism and conscientiousness.
The team of researchers also investigated IL-6 levels for the remaining “Big 5 personality traits,” like openness, extroversion, and agreeableness.
“Future studies will try to figure out who are the healthy neurotics and why they are healthier. Eventually, the clinical application might allow us to identify patients at high risk for chronic inflammation, and therefore have an increased risk of health problems and death,” stated Turiano.
The findings reinforce scientific understanding of the term “healthy neuroticism,” which was developed to underline the idea that neurotics with high levels of conscientiousness are more inclined to care for their physical health by avoiding behaviors such as overeating, smoking and consuming alcohol. Not so surprisingly, Turiano and his team found that when they cross-referenced their findings with smoking and alcohol consumption, the instances of IL-6 did in fact increase. This shows that neurotic people who lack high levels of conscientiousness may not immediately seek medical attention, which can lead to increased risk of letting a serious health condition go untreated.
Clinical Director October has been a Registered Nurse for over 15 years. She is board certified in Mental Health and Psychiatric Nursing. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She also graduated with bachelor and master degrees in Nursing from Western Governors University.