Neurotic People May Live Longer, Study Finds

Neurotic people may get a lot of flak, but in reality neuroticism is linked to some very good traits—intelligence and creativity among them. And a new study suggests that there may be another, unexpected bonus to neuroticism: It may be linked to a longer life. But interestingly, the connection depends on what type of neurotic you are, and how healthy you say you are, Forbes writes.

Earlier work on the subject of neuroticism and health had led to mixed results. And because we know that psychological stress and depression are linked to health problems, one might think neurotics would be at a similar disadvantage. “Given the evidence indicating that people with higher levels of psychological distress are more likely to die sooner than people with lower levels,” write the authors, “one might expect that higher neuroticism would be associated with increased mortality.”

But this is not exactly what they found in the current study. The researchers, from the University of Edinburgh and University College London, looked at data from half a million people, aged 37 to 73, living in the U.K. They correlated the personality trait with lifestyle habits, self-rated health, the development of chronic disease, and mortality risk over the years.

It turned out that neurotic people tended to have a slightly higher mortality risk, but when the team separated the results by self-reported health, the results changed. Neurotic people who reported their health being fair or poor tended to live longer, and these participants had lower mortality from all causes and from cancer. Those reporting good or excellent health, however, didn’t seem to benefit from being neurotic.

The team also looked at two subtypes of neuroticism—anxious-tense and worried-vulnerable. The anxious-tense type would answer “yes” to questions like, “Would you call yourself a nervous person?”, “Do you suffer from ‘nerves’?” and “Would you call yourself tense or ‘highly strung’?” The worried-vulnerable would identify with these: “Do you worry too long after an embarrassing experience?”, “Are your feelings easily hurt?”, “Are you ever troubled by feelings of guilt?” and “Are you a worrier?” Interestingly, the team found that only the worried-vulnerable subtype, but not the anxious-tense type, was linked to a reduced mortality risk, no matter how healthy or unhealthy participants said they were.

As the authors point out, neuroticism may lead a person to seek medical treatment more than the average person, which could translate into longevity. “This propensity to seek medical help in response to worries about health,” the authors write, “could plausibly result in earlier identification of cancer, and greater likelihood of survival… Our finding that higher neuroticism among these participants was associated with a reduction in risk of death from cancer is consistent with that explanation, as is our observation that higher scores on the worried-vulnerable facet of the Neuroticism factor were associated with reduced mortality from all causes.”

They didn’t find that the obvious lifestyle variables—diet, exercise, smoking or drinking—mediated the effect, but they add that this may be due partly to a lack of data on these items. Another limitation of the study is that it only followed people for an average of 6.5 years, which may not be long enough to draw real conclusions about the connection. 

study a couple of years ago suggested that, as many may know intuitively, neurotic people are more creative—and brain research seems to support this. Obsessive thinking and contemplation may have the unexpected benefit of allowing us to arrive at unique solutions to problems, or coming up with innovative new ideas.

So if you’re neurotic, don’t see it as a universal disadvantage. In addition to some interesting psychological benefits, in a funny way, it may also be good for your health.


Neurotic People May Live Longer, Study Finds - overview

Summary: Neurotic people may get a lot of flak, but in reality neuroticism is linked to some very good traits—intelligence and creativity among them. And a new study suggests that there may be another, unexpected bonus to neuroticism: It may be linked to a longer life. But interestingly, the connection depends on what type of neurotic you are, and how healthy you say you are.

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