Our ability to withstand stress-related, inflammatory diseases may be associated, not just with our race and sex, but with our personality as well, according to a study published in the July issue of the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity. Especially in aging women, low levels of the personality trait extraversion may signal that blood levels of a key inflammatory molecule have crossed over a threshold linked to a doubling of risk of death within five years.
An emerging area of medical science examines the mind-body connection, and how personality and stress contribute to disease in the aging body. Long-term exposure to hormones released by the brains of people under stress, for instance, takes a toll on organs. Like any injury, this brings a reaction from the body’s immune system, including the release of immune chemicals that trigger inflammation in an attempt to begin the healing process.
The same process goes too far as part of diseases from rheumatoid arthritis to Alzheimer’s disease to atherosclerosis, where inflammation contributes to clogged arteries, heart attacks and strokes.The current study found that that extroverts, and in particular those high “dispositional activity” or engagement in life, have dramatically lower levels of the inflammatory chemical interleukin 6 (IL-6).
According to landmark studies in the early 1990s, extraversion is a personality trait with three parts: a tendency toward happy thoughts, a desire to be around others and “dispositional energy,” a sense of innate vigor or active engagement with life (“I’m bursting with energy; my life is fast-paced”). Other dimensions of extraversion, such as sensation-seeking, have also been proposed.