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Conscientious people live longer

October 31, 2008 |  2:45 pm

Sunset1 Most of the factors related to longevity are physical: the presence of disease, body weight, smoking or drinking habits, and on and on. But having a personality trait known as conscientiousness seems to matter, too, according to a new study.

The research, conducted at UC Riverside, analyzed data from 20 studies on conscientiousness-related traits and longevity. The studies involved more than 8,900 people in the United States, Germany, Norway, Japan and Sweden. Psychology professor Howard S. Friedman found highly conscientious people live two to four years longer, are less likely to smoke or drink to excess and live more stable and less stressful lives. He also examined several facets of conscientiousness, such as being organized, efficient, responsible, self-controlled, disciplined, achievement-oriented, persistent, industrious and socially responsible. He found that achievement and having an orderly life were the strongest facets linked to longevity.

Conscientiousness, said Friedman in a news release, "seems to be as important as most commonly assessed medical risk factors, few of which are psychological ... Not only do conscientious individuals have better health habits and less risk-taking, but they also travel life pathways toward healthier psychosocial environments -- such as more stable jobs and marriages -- and may even have a biological predisposition toward good health."

Can one learn to be conscientious? Conscientiousness can't be changed in the short-term, says Friedman. But people who enter stable jobs or good marriages can become more conscientious. The study is published in the current issue of Health Psychology.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Ringo H.W. Chiu / Los Angeles Times