Telomere Length as an Outcome in Lifespan Models of Personality and Health

In this innovative study, investigators are studying telomere length, a marker of cellular aging, to understand the relation between personality and health.
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The personality trait of Conscientiousness predicts longevity in numerous longitudinal studies: more conscientious people live longer. Explaining this association with a view to developing interventions to enhance health and longevity is now a burgeoning field of personality and health research. This project takes a new approach to this topic, using leukocyte telomere length as the health outcome to be predicted by personality traits.

Telomere length is a marker of cellular aging, wherein shorter length indicates greater aging. Unhealthy lifestyle, traumatic life events, and poor physical health are associated with shorter telomere length. Low Conscientiousness is also associated with many of these same variables. The broad aim of the research study is to integrate these two separate lines of investigation to study the prospective influence of personality traits, particularly Conscientiousness, on telomere length.

Edmonds and his team are using data collected from the participants in the Hawaii Longitudinal Study of Personality and Health. The Hawaii sample provides a unique opportunity because of the comprehensive teacher assessments of participants’ childhood personality traits at age 10, and a rich array of personality, psychosocial, lifestyle, and objective physical health variables obtained subsequently when participants were followed-up at midlife. These include measures of healthy lifestyle (e.g., diet, physical activity, tobacco use), trauma experiences reported for different periods of life, clinical biomarkers of physical health and stored bio-specimens obtained at a baseline exam at age 50. A repeat 10-year follow-up clinical assessment of physical health at age 60 is currently underway.

PROJECT PERIOD

6/15/13 - 5/31/16

FUNDING AGENCY

National Institute on Aging (NIA)