Personality traits can provide useful clues for making predictions about people.
When it comes to predicting who might get sick, some of these clues seem fairly obvious.
For example, people who are highly conscientious might be more likely to do things such as wash their hands (after all, conscientious people tend to be more careful, disciplined, and well-organized).
As another example, people who are more neurotic or introverted might try to avoid other people—and thus avoid their germs as a result.
But you can’t always avoid other people, or their germs. Does your personality predict how your body might respond to a potential illness?
Personality and disease immunity
Sooner or later, everyone is exposed to something. Can personality still predict who gets sick?
A recent study found out by infecting nearly 700 healthy adults with the common cold virus.
The participants were monitored for clinical symptoms over the next 5 days.
Some people really got sick, other people didn’t.
The key traits that made the difference have to do with emotions.
- Participants who tend to feel more positive emotion in their daily lives were less likely to get sick after being infected.
- Participants who tend to feel less negative emotion in their daily lives were less likely to get sick after being infected.
Interestingly, these were 2 separate effects.
Feeling more positive emotion can reduce the risk of getting sick, regardless of how negative you tend to feel at other times.
Feeling less negative emotion can reduce the risk of getting sick, regardless of how positive you tend to feel at other times.
Each can make a difference without changing the other.
It’s not quite that simple
Of course…people only seem to benefit from these traits when certain conditions are satisfied.
- When participants felt overwhelmed by stress, they usually got sick.
- When participants felt like they weren’t getting support from other people, they usually got sick.
Being more positive (or less negative) in your day-to-day life could actually reduce your chances of getting sick.
Sometimes—if you’re too stressed or don’t have enough support from other people, you’re going to get sick anyway.
And maybe. It could turn out that your immune system influences your personality, rather than the other way around. It’s probably at least some of both. We won’t know the whole story until more research is done.