A person’s degree of extroversion and conscientiousness could affect how well their immune system works, researchers have said.
They believe aspects of our personality may affect our health and wellbeing.
However, the study did not find any results to support a common theory that tendencies toward negative emotions such as depression or anxiety can lead to poor health.
The health psychologists at The University of Nottingham and the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) carried out a study to examine the relationship between certain personality traits and the expression of genes that can affect our health by controlling the activity of our immune systems.
It concluded that was related to differences in immune cell gene expression were a person’s degree of extroversion and conscientiousness.
‘Our results indicated that ‘extroversion was significantly associated with an increased expression of pro-inflammatory genes and that ‘conscientiousness’ was linked to a reduced expression of pro-inflammatory genes,’ said Professor Kavita Vedhara, from The University of Nottingham’s School of Medicine, who led the study.
‘In other words, individuals who we would expect to be exposed to more infections as a result of their socially orientated nature (i.e., extroverts appear to have immune systems that we would expect can deal effectively with infection.
‘While individuals who may be less exposed to infections because of their cautious/conscientious dispositions have immune systems that may respond less well.’
However, the team admit they aren’t sure what is happening.
‘We can’t, however, say which came first. Is this our biology determining our psychology or our psychology determining our biology?’
The study used highly sensitive microarray technology to examine relationships between the five major human personality traits and two groups of genes active in human white blood cells (leukocytes): one involving inflammation, and another involving antiviral responses and antibodies.
A group of 121 ethnically diverse and healthy adults were recruited.
These were comprised of 86 females and 35 males with an average age of 24 (range 18-59) and an average body mass index of 23.
The participants completed a personality test which measures five major dimensions of personality, extroversion neuroticism, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness.
Blood samples were collected from each volunteer for gene expression analysis and their typical smoking, drinking and exercise behaviours were also recorded for control purposes.
Gene expression analysis was carried out at the Social Genomics Core Laboratory at UCLA.
These two clear associations were independent of the recorded health behaviours of the participants and subsets of white blood cells which are the cells of the body’s immune system.
In the remaining three categories of personality, ‘openness’ also trended towards a reduced expression of pro-inflammatory genes and ‘neuroticism’ and ‘agreeableness’ remained unassociated with gene expression.
The research concludes that although the biological mechanisms of these associations need to be explored in future research, these new data may shed new light on the long-observed epidemiological associations between personality, physical health, and human longevity.
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