Personality Assessments May Help Doctors Treat Patients

A study suggests doctors who know the personality types of their young patients may be able to provide better preventative care for those patients as they age.

Such personality assessments could prove as useful as recording young patients’ family medical histories and smoking habits, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

The study, published in the March issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, notes that a rising number of newly insured young adults will soon provide an opportunity to provide more preventative care.

Personalized Predictions

Personality assessments may offer useful tool in improving that care, said Salomon Israel, the lead researcher for the study, “Translating Personality Psychology to Help Personalize Preventative Medicine for Young Adult Patients.”

In an article published by the American Psychological Association, Israel said: “Personality tests can be measured cheaply, easily and reliably, and these traits are stable over many years and have far-reaching effects on health. Our findings suggest that in addition to ‘what’ a patient has among risks for chronic age-related diseases, physicians can benefit from knowing ‘who’ the patient is, in terms of personality in order to design effective preventative health care.”

The Big Five

The personality traits measured in the study – conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, neuroticism and openness to new experiences –are known as the Big Five, and are the basis of most psychological personality assessments.

The study examined whether brief observer reports of young adults’ Big Five traits could predict which would be at a greater risk for poor health at age 38.

The research followed a group of more than 1,000 individuals from a Dunedin, New Zealand, health and development study. Participants were born between April 1972 and March 1973.

The participants were assessed at specific intervals, beginning at age 3 and ending at age 38.

At age 26, they were asked to have someone who knew them extremely well to describe them using the Big Five Traits.

When they reached age 32, a clinic nurse and receptionist – who did not know the participants – did the same type of assessment based on observations.

The results from both personality assessments were similar, researchers reported. They also collected information about the participants’ risk factors, such as income, education, smoking habits, obesity, health status and family medical history.

Evidence Links Traits to Health Outcomes

Participants completed physical exams at 38 to look for certain health conditions, such as liver abnormalities, kidney problems, blood pressure, heart and lung disease, vascular inflammation and periodontal disease.

The study results revealed that conscientiousness and openness to new experiences most robustly forecasted later health outcomes.

People who are conscientious tend to be more active and have healthier diets, the study notes. They are less likely, also, to smoke or abuse drugs or alcohol.

Openness to experience is known to correlate positively to intelligence and there is evidence linking intelligence to health and longevity, the study says.

Researchers found no relationship between being neurotic at age 26 and in poorer health by age 38.

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