Does Our Personality Affect Our Immune System? One Study Says Yes

New findings suggest that certain personality traits actively play a role in the immune system of individuals.

A groundbreaking study led by Prof. Kavita Vedhara of the School of Medicine at the University of Nottingham in the U.K. confirms the hypothesis that some personality traits actually influence the activities of the immune system. The results of the study, published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, show that people who are extroverts tend to have stronger immune systems, while people who engaged in conscientious behaviors tend to have weaker immune systems.

Previous studies have implied a link between personality and health. However, the Nottingham study is the first to look at the immune system in a much more cohesive way by assessing personality traits across a range of people and linking it to the activity of genes that control the immune system.

“The biggest take-home message is that what happens in our health is connected to what happens in our heads and what happens in our lives,” says Steven Cole at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA), who supervised the research.

To reach their findings, the team gathered 121 healthy adults — 86 females and 35 males — aged between 18 and 59 years, according to Science Daily.

All participants were required to complete a psychometric test that measured the five primary dimensions of personality as established by Costa and McRae known as the “Big Five”: extraversion, neuroticism, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.

The participants also provided blood samples, and the researchers used microarray technology to assess the possible correlations between the five personality traits and the activity of genes in white blood cells.

To rule out other contributing factors that may influence the results, the researchers took note of participants’ exercise, smoking, and drinking behaviors.

Results of the analysis revealed that participants who scored higher for extraversion — a personality trait characterized by being sociable, people-oriented, and outgoing — had increased expression of pro-inflammatory genes in white blood cells, while those who scored higher on conscientiousness — characterized by being goal-oriented, vigilant, and having high impulse control — had reduced expression of these genes. Other personality traits did not have a significant link with the genes involved in immune system activities.

Prof. Vedhara says, “Individuals who we would expect to be exposed to more infections as a result of their socially orientated nature (i.e., extraverts) appear to have immune systems that we would expect can deal effectively with infection, while individuals who may be less exposed to infections because of their cautious/conscientious dispositions have immune systems that may respond less well.”

Results of the study contributes in the understanding of how personality traits influences one’s susceptibility to diseases or health in general. Researchers are hopeful that the study will lead to treatments that could enhance the immune system in certain personality types.

[Image of White Blood Cells from Wikimedia]