T. Booth, R. Mottus, J. Corley, A. J Gow, M. C Valdes Hernandez, Lars Penke, and I. J Deary (2014)

Personality, health and brain integrity: The Lothian Birth Cohort Study 1936

Health Psychology, 33:1477-1486.

Objective: To explore associations between the 5-factor model (FFM; neuroticism, extraversion, openness/intellect, agreeableness, and conscientiousness), personality traits, and measures of whole-brain integrity in a large sample of older people, and to test whether these associations are mediated by health-related behaviors. Method: Participants from the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 completed the International Personality Item Pool measure, a 5-factor public-domain personality measure (http://ipip.ori.org), and underwent a structural magnetic resonance brain scan at the mean age of 73 years, yielding 3 measures of whole brain integrity: average white matter fractional anisotropy (FA), brain-tissue loss, and white matter hyperintensities (N = 529 to 565). Correlational and mediation analyses were used to test the potential mediating effects of health-related behaviors on the associations between personality and integrity. Results: Lower conscientiousness was consistently associated with brain-tissue loss (β = −0.11, p < 0.01), lower FA (β = 0.16, p < 0.001) and white matter hyperintensities (β = −0.10, p < 0.05). Smoking, alcohol consumption, diet, physical activity, body mass index and a composite health-behavior variable displayed significant associations with measures of brain integrity (range of r = 0.10 to 0.25). The direct effects of conscientiousness on brain integrity were mediated to some degree by health behaviors, with the proportions of explained direct effects ranging from 0.1% to 13.7%. Conclusion: Conscientiousness was associated with all 3 measures of brain integrity, which we tentatively interpret as the effects of personality on brain aging. Small proportions of the direct effects were mediated by individual health behaviors. Results provide initial indications that lifetime stable personality traits may influence brain health in later life through health-promoting behaviors.