Critically discuss the relevant evidence on the relationship between conscientiousness and health. What mechanisms might underlie this relationship?
Of the five personality traits (Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism, Conscientiousness and Openness) Conscientiousness is arguably the most consistent predictor of health. Highly conscientious people tend to be orderly, hard-working and responsible. In contrast, people who are at the extreme low end of Conscientiousness tend to be disorderly, lazy and unreliable. Conscientious people tend to live longer, healthier and happier than the less conscientious (Friedman et al., 1993; Chapman, Lyness & Duberstein, 2007; DeNeve & Cooper, 1998).
There are several main explanations for why it is the case. Some evidence suggests that conscientious people continually engage in ‘health behaviours’ that promote their health (Bogg & Robets, 2004). Some researches indicate that conscientious people tend to end up in better social conditions (e.g. high SES and better relationships) that enable them to live healthier (Adler & Matthews, 1994). Other evidence indicates that stress mechanisms play a crucial role and conscientious people have better coping mechanisms to deal with it (Bartley & Roesch, 2011). This essay argues that the relationship is too complex to be accounted by only one mechanism and it is better to conceptualise the relationship as having multiple mechanisms that work together. Moreover, this essay will further argue that our current understanding of conscientiousness is too limited to offer a conclusive model of multiple mechanisms that fully account for the relationship. However, to do this effectively, we must first assess the evidence that conscientiousness predicts health outcomes.
Evidence from Longitudinal Studies
Most of the evidence of the relationship between conscientiousness and health comes from longitudinal studies. Personality traits are believed to affect health due to its stable and enduring quality. Therefore, the effects of Conscientiousness can be captured at best through longitudinal studies. Multiple studies have associated conscientiousness with mortality, morbidity and biomarkers of diseases.
Conscientiousness and Longevity
Conscientiousness has been consistently predicting longevity across a vast number of studies. Initial researches have found that children who were rated by parents and teachers as having low conscientious at childhood tended to live shorter, irrespective of the socio-economical status and gender (Friedman et al., 1993). In support of this finding, a study involving a sample of 883 Catholic clergy members suggested that conscientiousness predicts longevity in old age as too (Wilson et al., 2004). Furthermore, a meta-analysis of 20 independent samples consisting of around 9000 participants found a robust association between conscientiousness and longevity (Kern & Friedman, 2008).
Moreover, recent studies have replicated the results (Jokela et al., 2013),...