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Extroverts Are Happier and Healthier in Old Age

Update Date: Jul 17, 2013 04:08 PM EDT
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Extroverts age more gracefully than introverts, new research suggests.

Researchers found that outgoing or more emotionally stable young adults are happier in later life than their more introverted or less emotionally stable peers.

The study, published in the Journal of Research in Personality, looked at the effects of neuroticism and extraversion at ages 16 and 26 years on mental wellbeing and life satisfaction at age 60 to 64 and explored the mediating roles of psychological and physical health.

The study revealed that personalities in early adulthood have an enduring influence on wellbeing later in life.

"Few studies have examined the long-term influence of personality traits in youth on happiness and life satisfaction later in life. We found that extroversion in youth had direct, positive effects on wellbeing and life satisfaction in later life," study author Dr. Catharine Gale from the Medical Research Council's Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit said in a news release.

"Neuroticism, in contrast, had a negative impact, largely because it tends to make people more susceptible to feelings of anxiety and depression and to physical health problems," Gale said.

The study involved data from 4,583 participants who were part of the National Survey for Health and Development, conducted by the Medical Research Council. 

Researchers said all participants were born in 1946 and had completed a short personality inventory at age 16 and again at age 26.

Extroversion was measured by questions about the participants' sociability, energy, and activity orientation. Neuroticism was measured by questions are participants' emotional stability, mood and distractibility.

Years later when participants were 60 to 64, they were asked to answer a series of questions measuring their wellbeing and their level of satisfaction with life.  Participants also reported on their mental and physical health.

The findings revealed that greater extroversion in young adulthood was directly associated with higher scores for wellbeing and for satisfaction with life in old age. However, neuroticism indirectly predicted poorer levels of wellbeing.  Researchers found that people higher in neuroticism as young adults were more susceptible to psychological distress later in life and poorer physical health.

"Understanding what determines how happy people feel in later life is of particular interest because there is good evidence that happier people tend to live longer. In this study we found that levels of neuroticism and extraversion measured over 40 years earlier were strongly predictive of well-being and life satisfaction in older men and women," explained Gale.

"Personality in youth appears to have an enduring influence on happiness decades later," she concluded.

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