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People Who Are Outgoing, Optimistic, Easygoing, and Enjoying Laughter Live Longer

Update Date: May 25, 2012 08:00 PM EDT

"Personality genes" might contribute to longevity, according to a new study.

Kaori Kato, Psy.D. and his collegues at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology of Yeshiva University have discovered that people who are outgoing, optimistic, easygoing, and enjoying laughter as well as staying engaged in activities are more likely to live longer than others who don't possess these personality traits.

The findings come from Einstein's Longevity Genes Project, which includes over 500 Ashkenazi Jews over the age of 95 and 700 of their offspring. The researchers selected Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews because they are genetically homogeneous, making it easier to spot genetic differences within the study population.

Prior studies have indicated that personality arises from underlying genetic mechanisms that may directly affect health. The present study of 243 of the centenarians (average age 97.6 years, 75 percent women) was aimed at detecting genetically-based personality characteristics by creating a brief measure (the Personality Outlook Profile Scale, or POPS) of personality in centenarians.

"When I started working with centenarians, I thought we'd find that they survived so long in part because they were mean and ornery," said Nir Barzilai, M.D., the Ingeborg and Ira Leon Rennert Chair of Aging Research, director of Einstein's Institute for Aging Research and co-corresponding author of the study. "But when we assessed the personalities of these 243 centenarians, we found qualities that clearly reflect a positive attitude towards life. Most were outgoing, optimistic and easygoing. They considered laughter an important part of life and had a large social network. They expressed emotions openly rather than bottling them up."

In addition, the authors have found that the centenarians had lower scores for displaying neurotic personality and higher scores for being conscientious than the U.S. adult population.

"Some evidence indicates that personality can change between the ages of 70 and 100, so we don't know whether our centenarians have maintained their personality traits across their entire lifespans," continued Barzilai. "Nevertheless, our findings suggest that centenarians share particular personality traits and that genetically-based aspects of personality may play an important role in achieving both good health and exceptional longevity." 

The study, titled "Positive attitude towards life and emotional expression as personality phenotypes for centenarians," was published online May 21 in the journal Aging.

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