Turiano et al., 2012. Big 5 personality traits and interleukin-6: Evidence for “healthy Neuroticism” in a US population sample


The current study investigated if the Big 5 personality traits predicted interleukin-6 (IL-6) levels in a national sample over the course of 5 years. In addition, interactions among the Big 5 were tested to provide a more accurate understanding of how personality traits may influence an inflammatory biomarker. Data included 1054 participants in the Midlife Development in the U.S. (MIDUS) biomarkers subproject. The Big 5 personality traits were assessed in 2005–2006 as part of the main MIDUS survey. Medication use, comorbid conditions, smoking behavior, alcohol use, body mass index, and serum levels of IL-6 were assessed in 2005–2009 as part of the biomarkers subproject. Linear regression analyses examined personality associations with IL-6. A significant Conscientiousness*Neuroticism interaction revealed that those high in both Conscientiousness and Neuroticism had lower circulating IL-6 levels than people with all other configurations of Conscientiousness and Neuroticism. Adjustment for health behaviors diminished the magnitude of this association but did not eliminate it, suggesting that lower comorbid conditions and obesity may partly explain the lower inflammation of those high in both Conscientiousness and Neuroticism. Our findings suggest, consistent with prior speculation, that average to higher levels of Neuroticism can in some cases be associated with health benefits – in this case when it is accompanied by high Conscientiousness. Using personality to identify those at risk may lead to greater personalization in the prevention and remediation of chronic inflammation.