Those of us who laugh at the numerous neurotic characters in Woody Allen's films, and even at him as the self-described "ultimate New York neurotic" may just have been told that the last laugh is on us. According to a new study just published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, certain neurotic people may be more capable of fighting off inflammation than we are.
Say what? I thought that being neurotic was bad for your health
In many cases, it is. In the world of psychology and psychiatry, neurosis is one of the "Big Five" personality traits, along with being extroverted, agreeable, open, and conscientious. Being neurotic is characterized by a tendency to be anxious, moody, and tense, and to worry a lot, and a number of studies have indicated that these characteristics may be detrimental to our health.
What seems to be the factor in this new study is that when being neurotic is combined with another of the Big Five traits, conscientiousness, it makes for a synergy that may provide some actual health benefits. Conscientious individuals are characterized as being responsible, organized, and hardworking, so a neurotic person who is also conscientious might worry a lot, but they actually do something about it.
In the study itself, out of a total of 1,054 subjects from a government survey, 441 individuals who scored highly on standardized tests for both neurosis and conscientiousness were found to have significantly lower levels of the biomarker interluken 6, which is a protein that has been proven to have a strong role in inflammation; the more of this protein present in your blood, the more likely you are to succumb to inflammatory diseases. The "conscientious neurotics" in the study were also found to have lower body mass indexes (they were not as likely to become obese), and overall lower rates of disease.
Theorizing as to why this association might occur, study author Nicholas A. Turiano said that the combination of these two traits might make people "likely to weigh the consequences of their actions, and therefore their level of neuroticism coupled with conscientiousness probably stops them from engaging in risky behaviors." As to the possible importance of their findings, study researchers emphasize that they're not pushing neurosis as a health benefit, but a marker that may possibly be useful in the prediction of a patient's susceptibility to inflammatory diseases: "Using personality to identify those at risk may lead to greater personalization in the prevention and remediation of chronic inflammation."
So what other personality traits have an impact on health?
Being conscientious (outside of being linked to being neurotic) may have benefits in itself, according to research detailed in a book called The Longevity Project. Analyzing 80 years of studies on aging, the authors found a strong association between conscientiousness and a longer life span. Conscientiousness turned out to be the best predictor of longevity when found either in childhood or adulthood. The study authors theorized that this was because the conscientious individuals were more likely to take care of their health, to avoid risks, and to have healthy relationships.
Other personality traits that have been positively linked to better health and longevity include being optimistic, being extroverted, and having many social relationships. And, in what may be good news for the previously mentioned Woody Allen, being funny or having the capacity to laugh a lot also seems to have health benefits. Frequent laughter was found in a study published in Aging to be another trait with a strong association to longevity. Woody's almost 77, so it seems to be working for him. Combine that with his admitted neuroses and his history of being conscientious enough to have written or directed over 70 films, and he may live forever.