Personality traits, cognitive states, and mortality in older adulthood

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2023 Feb;124(2):381-395. doi: 10.1037/pspp0000418. Epub 2022 Apr 11.


Research suggests that personality traits are associated with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), dementia, and mortality risk, but the timing of when traits are most important in the progression to dementia and the extent to which they are associated with years of cognitive health span are unclear. This project applied secondary data analysis to the Rush Memory and Aging Project (N = 1954; baseline Mage = 80 years; 74% female) over up to 23 annual assessments. Multistate survival modeling examined the extent to which conscientiousness, neuroticism, and extraversion, assessed using the NEO Five Factor Inventory, were associated with transitions between cognitive status categories and death. Additionally, multinomial regression models estimated cognitive health span and total survival based on standard deviation units of personality traits. Adjusting for demographics, depressive symptoms, and apolipoprotein (APOE) ε4, personality traits were most important in the transition from no cognitive impairment (NCI) to MCI. For instance, higher conscientiousness was associated with a decreased risk of transitioning from NCI to MCI, hazard ratio (HR) = 0.78, 95% CI [0.72, 0.85] and higher neuroticism was associated with an increased risk of transitioning from NCI to MCI, HR = 1.12, 95% CI [1.04, 1.21]. Additional significant and nonsignificant results are discussed in the context of the existing literature. While personality traits were not associated with total longevity, individuals higher in conscientiousness and extraversion, and lower in neuroticism, had more years of cognitive health span, particularly female participants. These findings provide novel understanding of the simultaneous associations between personality traits and transitions between cognitive status categories and death, as well as cognitive health span and total longevity. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2023 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging
  • Dementia* / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longevity
  • Male
  • Neuroticism
  • Personality Inventory
  • Personality*