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Childhood Conscientiousness and Leukocyte Telomere Length 40 Years Later in Adult Women--Preliminary Findings of a Prospective Association.

Authors: Grant W GW. Edmonds, Hélène C F HC. Côté, Sarah E SE. Hampson
Published: 07/28/2015, PloS one


Leukocyte telomere length (LTL) shortens with age, and is a prospective marker of mortality related to cardiovascular disease. Many health behaviors and social environmental factors have been found to be associated with LTL. Several of these are also associated with conscientiousness, a dispositional personality trait. Conscientiousness is a propensity to be planful, adhere to social norms, and inhibit pre-potent responses. Like LTL, conscientiousness is prospectively related to mortality, possibly through cumulative effects on health over the life course via multiple pathways. As a result, we hypothesized that childhood levels of conscientiousness would predict LTL prospectively in adulthood. We selected a sample of 60 women in the Hawaii Personality and Health Cohort; 30 described by their teachers as high on conscientiousness in childhood and 30 described as low on the trait. Dried blood spot samples collected in adulthood 40 years later were used as sources of DNA for the LTL assay. Conscientiousness was associated with longer LTL (p = .02). Controlling for age did not account for this association. Controlling for education and physiological dysregulation partially attenuated the association, and the effect remained significant when accounting for differences in LTL across cultural groups. These results represent the first evidence that childhood personality prospectively predicts LTL 40 years later in adulthood. Our findings would be consistent with a mediation hypothesis whereby conscientiousness predicts life paths and trajectories of health that are reflected in rates of LTL erosion across the lifespan.

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