Do Health Behaviors Explain the Effect of Neuroticism on Mortality? Longitudinal Findings from the VA Normative Aging Study

J Res Pers. 2009 Aug 1;43(4):653-659. doi: 10.1016/j.jrp.2009.03.016.


Studies have shown that higher levels of neuroticism are associated with greater risk of mortality. Yet what accounts for this association? One major theoretical position holds that persons higher in neuroticism engage in poorer health behaviors, such as smoking and excessive drinking, thus leading to earlier death. We tested this hypothesis using 30-year mortality in 1,788 men from the VA Normative Aging Study. Using proportional hazards (Cox) models we found that one health behavior, smoking, attenuated the effect of neuroticism on mortality by 40%. However, 60% remained unexplained, suggesting that the effects of other pathways (e.g., biological) also influence the relationship between neuroticism and mortality.