The Surprising Way Your Personality Affects The Way Your Brain Ages

It takes all kinds to make the world go round — but could some kinds age better than others? A new study found that personality types can affect cognitive decline later in life. Since personality traits can be indicative of patterns of thinking and behaving, they may be useful in predicting how long cognitive decline can be kept at bay as we age, lead study author Dr. Tomiko Yoneda told the American Psychological Association (APA).

Researchers utilized three of the "Big Five" personality traits: conscientiousness, neuroticism, and extraversion (via APA). People who are conscientious are often responsible, organized, hard-working, and goal-oriented. Neuroticism was defined as low emotional stability, usually accompanied by mood swings, anxiety, depression, self-doubt, and other negative feelings. Those who are extroverted tend to get their energy from being around others and are often enthusiastic, talkative, and assertive. Looking at these lifelong experiences help to understand how likely someone is to develop a disorder such as cognitive impairment, as well as how likely someone is to endure neurological changes.

What your personality could mean about your brain health

Researchers in the study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, analyzed the data of 1,954 people in the Rush Memory and Aging Project, a long-term study of older adults in Illinois. Researchers found that those who were conscientious and extraverted may be less at risk of developing cognitive impairment as they age, while those who experienced neuroticism were more likely to experience cognitive decline (via APA).

Those who scored high for conscientiousness were estimated to live without cognitive impairment almost two years longer than those who scored low, according to CNN. Being more extraverted and socially engaged translated to an extra year of dementia-free living, while higher levels of neuroticism translated to one less year of healthy cognition. While personality traits were not indicators of actual life expectancy, they were important in predicting how long one might live without cognitive decline.

It's important to note that the participants of this study were 87% white and 74% female, meaning that further diversified research is needed to give us a broader understanding of the impact of personality on cognitive function (per APA).