Purdue receives $2.1 million to study link between personality traits, health

August 10, 2011

Daniel K. Mroczek

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — How people's moods and self-discipline affect their physical health and longevity will continue to be studied at Purdue University thanks to a $2.1 million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health.

The grant, which starts Aug. 15, was awarded to Daniel K. Mroczek, pronounced Mro-ZEK, a professor of human development and family studies. This is a renewal for Mroczek's work that received $2.85 million in grants during the previous 10 years.

"One of our most exciting findings from the past 10 years is that dynamics of personality, such as changes in chronic worrying, can affect people's mortality risk, and this new study will help us better understand how," said Mroczek, who also has a courtesy appointment in the Department of Psychological Sciences and is affiliated with Purdue's Center on Aging and the Life Course. "There are obvious behaviors that raise one's mortality risk such as smoking and poor diet and exercise, but what are these mechanisms between personality traits and physical health?

"Some of those traits, such as self-discipline, which is known to personality researchers as conscientiousness, seem easy to explain. For example, if you are self-disciplined you are more likely to keep your doctor's appointments and exercise regularly. But we also want to know more about the role of other traits such as neuroticism and open-mindedness."

The study, which is based on long-term data, will focus on older adults, but some of their health and personality information will be provided since they were young adults. Data will be provided and collected by the VA Normative Aging Study, Health and Aging Study of Central Illinois, and the Midlife in the United States Survey.

"Not only do we want to know if people's personality changed, but whether the extent to which the trait changes matters for health and longevity," Mroczek said. "Personality is not set in stone, and many people change as they age. They often become less worrisome and neurotic, and more conscientious. We will investigate how these alterations affect people's physical health."

"Personality and Well-being Trajectories in Adulthood" is funded by the National Institute on Aging and the National Institute of Mental Health. Avron Spiro III, a research professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, is the study's co-principal investigator.

Writer:  Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

Source:  Daniel K. Mroczek, 765-494-2937, dmroczek@purdue.edu