Conscientious and even neurotic folks are good for their partners' health, suggests results of a large-scale study of “compensatory conscientiousness effect” reported this month in Psychological Science.
“Highly conscientious people are more organized and responsible and tend to follow through with their obligations, to be more impulse controlled and to follow rules,” said University of Illinois psychology professor Brent Roberts, who led the study.
Past studies have shown that conscientious people are more likely to exercise, eat nutritious foods and adhere to vitamin or drug regimens, and are less likely to smoke, abuse drugs or take unwarranted risks. They also tend to have more stable relationships than people with low conscientiousness. Those on the neurotic side, though, tended to report poorer health and less satisfying relationships. In contrast, this new study examines how one’s personality can influence the health of another.
“There’s been kind of an individualistic bias in personality research,” Roberts said. “But human beings are not islands. We are an incredibly interdependent species.” His team studied data from the Health and Retirement Study, for which about 2,000 U.S. couples rated their own levels of neuroticism and conscientiousness and to answer questions about the quality of their health. Participants also reported whether or not a health problem limited their ability to engage in a range of activities such as jogging one block, climbing a flight of stairs, shopping, dressing or bathing.
Both men and women benefit from being paired with a conscientious mate, and women had additional health benefits when their mates were also neurotic. Alas, men paired with neurotic women did not get the same health boost.