Personality, health, and brain integrity: The Lothian Birth Cohort Study 1936

Tom Booth*, Rene Mottus, Janie Corley, Alan J. Gow, Ross D. Henderson, Susana Munoz Maniega, Catherine Murray, Natalie A. Royle, Emma Sprooten, Maria C. Valdes Hernandez, Mark E. Bastin, Lars Penke, John M. Starr, Joanna M. Wardlaw, Ian J. Deary

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    34 Citations (Scopus)


    OBJECTIVE: To explore associations between the 5-factor model (FFM; neuroticism, extraversion, openness/intellect, agreeableness, and conscientiousness), personality traits, and measures of whole-brain integrity in a large sample of older people, and to test whether these associations are mediated by health-related behaviors.

    METHOD: Participants from the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 completed the International Personality Item Pool measure, a 5-factor public-domain personality measure (, and underwent a structural magnetic resonance brain scan at the mean age of 73 years, yielding 3 measures of whole brain integrity: average white matter fractional anisotropy (FA), brain-tissue loss, and white matter hyperintensities (N = 529 to 565). Correlational and mediation analyses were used to test the potential mediating effects of health-related behaviors on the associations between personality and integrity.

    RESULTS: Lower conscientiousness was consistently associated with brain-tissue loss (β = -0.11, p < 0.01), lower FA (β = 0.16, p < 0.001) and white matter hyperintensities (β = -0.10, p < 0.05). Smoking, alcohol consumption, diet, physical activity, body mass index and a composite health-behavior variable displayed significant associations with measures of brain integrity (range of r = 0.10 to 0.25). The direct effects of conscientiousness on brain integrity were mediated to some degree by health behaviors, with the proportions of explained direct effects ranging from 0.1% to 13.7%.

    CONCLUSION: Conscientiousness was associated with all 3 measures of brain integrity, which we tentatively interpret as the effects of personality on brain aging. Small proportions of the direct effects were mediated by individual health behaviors. RESULTS provide initial indications that lifetime stable personality traits may influence brain health in later life through health-promoting behaviors. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2014 APA, all rights reserved).

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1477-1486
    Number of pages10
    JournalHealth Psychology
    Issue number12
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2014


    • five-factor model
    • brain volume
    • white matter hyperintensities
    • fractional anisotropy
    • health behaviors
    • AGE
    • TRAITS
    • SAMPLE
    • VOLUME


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