Associations between the five-factor model of personality and leukocyte telomere length in elderly men and women: The Helsinki Birth Cohort Study (HBCS)

J Psychosom Res. 2015 Sep;79(3):233-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2015.04.011. Epub 2015 Apr 28.


Objective: Personality traits have been associated with cardiometabolic diseases and mental disorders as well as with longevity. However, the underlying mechanisms are not fully understood. Accelerated cellular aging may play a role in this process. We studied whether personality traits in late adulthood, as defined in the five-factor model (FFM), were associated with a biomarker of cellular vitality, leukocyte telomere length (LTL).

Methods: At a mean age of 63.4 (SD=2.8) years, 1671 (742 men, 929 women) participants from the Helsinki Birth Cohort Study filled in the Neuroticism, Extraversion and Openness Personality Inventory (NEO-PI). LTL was measured at a mean age of 61.5 (SD=2.9) years by using a real-time quantitative PCR method.

Results: None of the FFM personality dimensions were significantly associated with the LTL in the analyses of both sexes combined. We however found interaction between sex and agreeableness (B=0.020, 95% CI=.008, 0.032, p=.001) and in the sex-specific analyses, men who scored higher on agreeableness (B=-0.086, 95% CI=-0.155, -0.016, p=.016) and women who scored lower on agreeableness (B=0.074, 95% CI=0.014, 0.134, p=.016) had shorter LTL.

Conclusions: FFM dimensions of personality were not associated with LTL in a sample of elderly individuals. The counterintuitive and sporadic sex specific finding on agreeableness requires replication. Overall our findings suggest that LTL, a biomarker of cellular aging, may not offer insight into the associations between personality, longevity and health.

Keywords: Cellular aging; Cohort; Health; Personality; Telomere.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Cellular Senescence / genetics*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Extraversion, Psychological
  • Female
  • Finland / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuroticism
  • Personality Disorders / genetics
  • Personality Inventory
  • Personality* / genetics
  • Telomere Homeostasis*