Do Friends Know How Long You’ll Live?

Is there any link between personality and longevity? Before you can define who you are, you have to understand your personality. Ask yourself a question, such as “What do I like to do?” or “who am I?” When you can answer that question, then you can use the information to discover what your personality is. In short – There are many different personality types, and it is sometimes difficult to classify a person into a single type as there are many different personality traits you can possess. Personality traits are simply:

  • Actions

  • Attitudes

  • Behaviors you possess

Young lovers walking down the aisle may dream of long and healthy lives together, but close friends in the wedding party may have a better sense of whether those wishes will come true, suggests new research on personality and longevity from Washington University in St. Louis.

“You expect your friends to be inclined to see you in a positive manner, but they also are keen observers of the personality traits that could send you to an early grave,” said Joshua Jackson, PhD, assistant professor of psychology in Arts & Sciences.

Published Jan. 12 in an advance online issue of the journal Psychological Science, the study demonstrates that your personality at an early age (20s) can predict how long you will live across 75 years and that close friends are usually better than you at recognizing these

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“Our study shows that people are able to observe and rate a friend’s personality accurately enough to predict early mortality decades down the road,” said Joshua Jackson, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis, who wrote the paper with James J. Connolly, PhD, and Madeleine M. Leveille, PhD, of Connolly Consulting, Waterford, Connecticut; S. Mason Garrison of the Department of Psychology and Human Development, Vanderbilt University; and Seamus L. Connolly of College of Medicine, Touro University, California. “It suggests that people are able to see important characteristics related to health even when their friends were, for the most part, healthy and many years from death.”

It’s no secret that a person’s personality traits can have an impact on health. Traits such as depression and anger have been linked to an increased risk of various diseases and health concerns, including an early death.

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“There are two potential reasons for the superiority of peer ratings over self ratings,” Jackson said.

“First, friends may see something that you miss; they may have some insight that you do not. Second, because people have multiple friends, we are able to average the idiosyncrasies of any one friend to obtain a more reliable assessment of personality. With self reports, people may be biased or miss certain aspects of themselves and we are not able to counteract that because there is only one you, only one self-report.”

The study also revealed some gender differences in self-assessment: Men’s self-ratings of personality traits were somewhat useful in predicting their lifespans, whereas the self-reports of women had little predictive value.

Jackson suggests this gender difference in self-reporting may be a function of the era in which the study began, since societal expectations were different then and fewer women worked outside the home.

Young women seen as highly agreeable and emotionally stable may have increased odds for a long and happy life since their personalities were well suited for the role of a supportive and easy-going wife, which would have been the norm in the 1930s. It is likely that fewer gender differences would arise in more modern samples if we were able to wait 75 years to replicate the study, he said.

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