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Personality, Subjective Well-Being, and Mortality Risk Across the Lifespan: Pathways Linking Neuroticism, Conscientiousness, and Health


Much research confirms that high conscientiousness is related to decreased mortality risk, in part because conscientious people are more likely to engage in salubrious health behaviors and maintain healthy social support networks. High neuroticism is associated with decreased subjective well-being (SWB) and poorer self-rated health, but there is dispute over the extent to which this reflects actual health problems and increased mortality risk, or heightened sensitivity to somatic symptoms without a true increase in measurable disease and mortality risk. Associations between combinations of conscientiousness and neuroticism and well-being, however, have received relatively little attention. Here, the concept of “healthy neuroticism” was tested, which proposes that the combination of high conscientiousness and high neuroticism is health protective. Survival and regression analysis to were used examine whether “healthy neuroticism” in adulthood (1940) was related to mortality risk and well-being in the lifespan Terman data (N=1528). Following previous literature, the interaction of conscientiousness and neuroticism was modeled via linear and spline terms (which isolates the interaction for participants high in conscientiousness and neuroticism). Contrary to previous theory, results showed that combinations of high conscientiousness and neuroticism were related to worse subjective well-being, particularly for men. Because trait interactions differentially predict subjective well-being and mortality risk, results suggest that subjective and objective measures of health are distinct, with implications for lifelong models of health and well-being.

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