Early manifestations of personality and adult health: a life course perspective

Health Psychol. 2009 May;28(3):364-72. doi: 10.1037/a0014428.


Objective: The aim of this study is to investigate whether individual personality or temperamental qualities that emerge early and persist over the life course, predict adult midlife health. Specific childhood personality attributes considered include distress proneness, behavioral inhibition, and ability to stay focused on a task.

Design: Prospective data are from 569 individuals followed from birth into adulthood.

Main outcome measures: Outcomes include two different measures of adult health: self-rated general health, and number of illnesses in adulthood.

Results: Childhood personality attributes related to attention and distress were significantly associated with adult health, with stronger effects evident among women. Children with high attention reported better self-rated health (b = 0.12, p < .05) and fewer illnesses (b = -0.09, p < .01) as adults; more distress-prone children reported worse self-rated health (b = -0.15, p < .05) and more illnesses (b = 0.07, p < .09) as adults.

Conclusion: Associations between child personality attributes with both general self-rated health and number of illnesses in adulthood were maintained after taking account of childhood social environment and child health. Findings indicate that early emerging personality and related processes influence adult physical health, and suggest the potential value of interventions targeting early life development.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Arousal
  • Attention
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Chronic Disease / psychology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Health Status Indicators*
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Inhibition, Psychological
  • Life Change Events
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Personality Development*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Rhode Island
  • Social Environment
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Temperament*
  • Young Adult