Personality Moderates Intervention Effects on Cognitive Function: A 6-Week Conversation-Based Intervention

Gerontologist. 2020 Jul 15;60(5):958-967. doi: 10.1093/geront/gnz063.


Background and objectives: Social isolation is associated with a higher risk of dementia. We previously conducted and showed the efficacy of an intervention which uses conversation (the core component of social interactions) as a tool to enhance cognitive function. We now explore whether cognitive improvements through conversation-based intervention depend on an individual's personality.

Research design and methods: We reexamined data from a 6-week randomized controlled trial ( Number: NCT01571427) to determine whether conversation-based intervention effects were moderated by personality traits in 83 older adults (mean age = 80.51 years, 49 cognitively intact, 34 individuals with mild cognitive impairment). The intervention group participated in daily 30-min face-to-face semi-structured conversations with trained interviewers through a web-enabled system for 6 weeks. At baseline, psychosocial questionnaires and a neuropsychological battery were completed.

Results: Intervention group participants with high agreeableness, conscientiousness, and extraversion exhibited significant improvements in language-based executive function tasks beyond changes in the control group (ps < .05). An opposite pattern for delayed recall memory and working memory tasks emerged among highly extraverted participants (ps < .05).

Discussion and implications: Our exploratory findings suggest the adaptive role of personality traits in conversation-based cognitive interventions may be limited to tasks incorporating a language component, and offer initial evidence for personalized approaches to cognitive health in late life.

Keywords: Clinical trial methods; Cognition; Intervention; Personality traits; Social engagement.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cognition*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / therapy
  • Communication*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term
  • Personality*

Associated data