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Neuroticism can shave years off a person's life, at least in part because a nervous Nellie is more likely to smoke, a new study suggests. The finding adds to a mountain of evidence suggesting personality and psychological traits — from mellowness to anger and even degree of social engagement — help determine how long you'll live and how healthy you'll be.
While the latest results are based on a survey of men, it is "very likely" they also apply to women, though follow-up research is needed to confirm, according to study researcher Daniel Mroczek, a professor of child development and family studies at Purdue University in Indiana.
To reveal their level of neuroticism, participants answered questions on a scale from "not at all" to "very," including "Do you usually worry a long time after a distressing incident?" and "Are you sometimes sad without any particular reason?" The results were tallied into a 10-point scale, from very calm to highly neurotic. Sure enough, people who scored higher on neuroticism also smoked and drank alcohol more than the calmer of the bunch. "It may be the case that smoking and other bad health behaviors help alleviate those feelings of being stressed out, those feelings of worry," Mroczek told LiveScience. "It may ease those feelings of worry and anxiety, but it may kill you in the end if you stay smoking for say 30 years."
"It's very exciting that there are things about our character, our personality, that influence our physical health and how long we live," Mroczek said. Such findings have practical implications. "For example, programs that target people high in neuroticism may get bigger bang for the buck than more widespread outreach efforts," Mroczek said.