Personality and the Leading Behavioral Contributors of Mortality

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Abstract

Objective:

Personality traits predict both health behaviors and mortality risk across the life course. However, there are few investigations that have examined these effects in a single study. Thus, there are limitations in assessing if health behaviors explain why personality predicts health and longevity.

Method:

Utilizing 14-year mortality data from a national sample of over 6,000 adults from the Midlife in the United States Study, we tested whether alcohol use, smoking behavior, and waist circumference mediated the personality–mortality association.

Results:

After adjusting for demographic variables, higher levels of Conscientiousness predicted a 13% reduction in mortality risk over the follow-up. Structural equation models provided evidence that heavy drinking, smoking, and greater waist circumference significantly mediated the Conscientiousness–mortality association by 42%.

Conclusion:

The current study provided empirical support for the health-behavior model of personality—Conscientiousness influences the behaviors persons engage in and these behaviors affect the likelihood of poor health outcomes. Findings highlight the usefulness of assessing mediation in a structural equation modeling framework when testing proportional hazards. In addition, the current findings add to the growing literature that personality traits can be used to identify those at risk for engaging in behaviors that deteriorate health and shorten the life span.

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