COLUMBUS, Ohio -- For older adults, personality traits may be more important than physical health in determining psychological well-being, a new study suggests.

In a survey of more than 3,000 British adults, researchers found that younger and middle-aged adults' psychological well-being was associated with both personality and health status.

Older adults, however, were a different story. The researchers found that among these people, personality was more strongly associated with how content or distressed with life they were, but health status was less relevant.

"This suggests that personality may be a more important factor in terms of older adults' psychological well-being," said Charles F. Emery, an associate professor of psychology at Ohio State University and lead author of the study.

"Conversely, health may be less relevant for the psychological well-being of these people."

Emery conducted this research with Felicia A. Huppert, a

professor of psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, England, and Rebecca L. Schein, a clinical associate at the Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development at Duke University Medical Center. The group's work was published in a recent issue of the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

For their study, Emery and his colleagues analyzed information collected as part of Great Britain's Health and Lifestyle Survey (HALS). The HALS includes three parts: a face-to-face interview, during which the subject is asked questions about his or her home and family life, dietary habits, exercise and leisure activities, social support and general health; a home visit, during which a nurse measures the subject's height, weight, body mass index, blood pressure and heart rate; and a series of psychological questionnaires, which measure the subject's tendencies toward extroversion, neuroticism and overall mental health.

In order to determine which factors in a person's life predict future psychological well-being, the researchers analyzed information from one HALS conducted in 1984-85 and from one conducted with the same subjects seven years later.

The researchers found that, in general, neuroticism was the best predictor of how psychologically content or distressed a person would be in later life. Specifically, those people who were more neurotic -- generally defined as being more emotional and easily aroused -- were significantly more likely to suffer psychological distress seven years later. Health status also predicted future psychological well-being, but was not as strong a predictor as neuroticism.

"Previous studies have not evaluated interactions of personality and health on psychological well-being," Emery said. "Our results suggest that, in general, both factors contribute to psychological well-being, except among older adults."

"This suggests that there may be more stability between psychological functioning and personality among older adults than among younger and middle-aged adults," Emery said. "It seems there are more factors associated with psychological well- being in the younger and middle-aged groups; one of those factors is health. In the older group, there may be a greater effect of personality."

"It's not necessarily easy to help someone be less neurotic. It's still unclear what exactly constitutes personality and how modifiable that may be," he said. "However, we've seen with heart patients that there can be some success in modifying 'Type A' tendencies. The extent to which that could be done with neuroticism is still unclear."

Contact: Charles F. Emery, (614) 688-3061;

Written by Kelly McConaghy Kershner, (614) 292-8308;

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