Certain personality traits may be linked to
cognitive decline as we age, according to a new study.People with higher levels of extroversion and conscientiousness are less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment than those with higher levels of mood instability, according to the study, which was published earlier this month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.“Personality traits reflect relatively enduring patterns of thinking and behaving, which may cumulatively affect engagement in healthy and unhealthy behaviors and thought patterns across the lifespan,” Tomiko Yoneda, Ph.D., a recent graduate of the University of Victoria and lead author of the study,said in a statement. “The accumulation of lifelong experiences may then contribute to susceptibility of particular diseases or disorders, such as mild cognitive impairment, or contribute to individual differences in the ability to withstand age-related neurological changes.”The researchers examined the personalities of nearly 2,000 adults who participated in the Rush Memory and Aging Project, a Chicago-based study that began in 1997 and is ongoing. Participants underwent a personality assessment and annual cognitive screening for up to 23 years. Yoneda’s team focused on three of the “Big 5” personality traits: neuroticism, extroversion, and conscientiousness. The “Big 5” is a common personality test used by psychoanalysts to measure certain aspects of a person’s personality: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. These personality traits remain relatively stable over a person’s life and are influenced by genetics and environment. Those who scored high in neuroticism — a personality trait characterized my moodiness and emotional instability — were more likely to develop mild cognitive impairment as they aged. People who scored higher in conscientiousness — a trait defined by thoughtfulness and discipline — or low in neuroticism were less likely to experience cognitive decline as they aged. “Scoring approximately six more points on a conscientiousness scale ranging 0 to 48 was associated with a 22% decreased risk of transitioning from normal cognitive functioning to mild cognitive impairment,” Yoneda said. “Additionally, scoring approximately seven more points on a neuroticism scale of 0 to 48 was associated with a 12% increased risk of transition.”The team also found that people who scored lower in neuroticism and higher in extraversion were more likely to recover normal brain activity after a period of cognitive decline. They concluded that extraversion and social activity could help prevent cognitive decline in older adults.It’s worth noting that the majority of the participants were white (87%) and women (74%), and they had an average of 15 years of education. These factors could skew the results, and more research is needed to determine if the same findings hold true for other demographics.But in the meantime, it’s possible that working towards emotional stability and extraversion — or at least socializing more — could help your brain in the long run.