Under certain circumstances neuroticism can be good for your health, according to a University of Rochester Medical Center study showing that some self-described neurotics also tended to have the lowest levels of Interleukin 6 (IL-6), a biomarker for inflammation and chronic disease.
Researchers made the preliminary discovery while conducting research into how psychosocial factors such as personality traits influence underlying biology, to predict harmful conditions like inflammation.
Known as one of the "Big 5" traits, neuroticism is usually marked by being moody, nervous, and a worrier, and linked to hostility, depression, and excessive drinking and smoking. The scientific literature is rife with findings that extreme anxiety and self-medicating with alcohol and other substances due to neuroticism are detrimental to long-term health. The other four traits are openness (creative, curious, broad-minded), extraversion (outgoing, friendly, talkative), agreeableness (helpful, warm, sympathetic), and conscientiousness (organized, responsible, hardworking).
Nicholas A. Turiano, Ph.D., a post-doctoral fellow in the URMC Department of Psychiatry, wondered about a gray area - those people with average-to-high levels of neuroticism who are also conscientious. Exhibiting higher levels of conscientiousness as well as neuroticism points to folks who tend to be high-functioning in society, very organized, goal-oriented, planners, and more likely to be reflective.
"These people are likely to weigh the consequences of their actions, and therefore their level of neuroticism coupled with conscientiousness probably stops them from engaging in risky behaviors," said Turiano, whose study is published online by the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.
Turiano and co-authors sought an objective way to test their hypothesis that "healthy neuroticism" could be protective. They tapped into the National Survey of Midlife Development in the U.S. (MIDUS) database, a sampling of adults (1,054 participants) from the West Coast, East Coast, and Midwest. Participants took part in a full clinic-based health evaluation, including tests for disease-related biomarkers, physiological function, and personality traits.
Interleukin 6, an important immune protein, is easily measured by a fasting blood test. It was one of several pieces of data collected and available in the MIDUS database, because it provides an accurate assessment of conditions linked to inflammation such as heart disease, stroke, asthma, arthritis, diabetes, and some cancers.