65 Longevity Personality Trait

Based on Research by Drs. Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin. Psychology Science Minute written by Juanita N. Baker, Ph.D..

What personality traits do you think lead to living a long life?  Extroversion?  Optimism?  Anxiety? Sociability?

To find out, Drs. Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin wanted to avoid biases in current studies. They used longitudinal data that Louis B. Terman in San Francisco collected starting in 1921 on 1500 11 year-olds who came from similar backgrounds. Selecting only intellectually bright children, Terman’s team followed them for years to learn what traits would predict leadership.

Using Terman’s data 80 years later, Friedman and Martin obtained death certificates in order to compare the personality traits of those who died early with those who died late.  Their findings clearly identified the best childhood personality predictor of longevity was conscientiousness, defined as trying to do right, being well organized, truthful, and persistent.  Conscientiousness is important in obtaining an education and productive career, as well as engaging in meaningful and active involvement in life activities.

Be conscientious, live longer.  Psychology shows us that personality is not set. Gradually, we can work to become more conscientious by deliberately setting small goals, changing our environment to set ourselves up for success, making an effort, and monitoring progress. A bonus is a longer life..


For New York Times Newsarticle see:


Cited Research

Kern, M.L. & Friedman, H.S. (2008). Do Conscientious Individuals Live Longer? A Quantitative Review. Health Psychology, 27, 505-12.

Friedman, H.S. & Martin, L.R. (2010).  The Longevity Project. Surprising Discoveries for Health and long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study. Throndike, NY: Hudson Street Press.

Goodwin, R. D., & Friedman, H. S. (2006). Health status and the Five Factor personality traits in a nationally representative sample. Journal of

Health Psychology, 11, 643–654.

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