Personality traits have been associated with cardiometabolic diseases and mental disorders as well as with longevity. However, the underlying mechanisms are not fully understood. Accelerated cellular aging may play a role in this process. We studied whether personality traits in late adulthood, as defined in the five-factor model (FFM), were associated with a biomarker of cellular vitality, leukocyte telomere length (LTL).
At a mean age of 63.4 (SD=2.8) years, 1671 (742 men, 929 women) participants from the Helsinki Birth Cohort Study filled in the Neuroticism, Extraversion and Openness Personality Inventory (NEO-PI). LTL was measured at a mean age of 61.5 (SD=2.9) years by using a real-time quantitative PCR method.
None of the FFM personality dimensions were significantly associated with the LTL in the analyses of both sexes combined. We however found interaction between sex and agreeableness (B=0.020, 95% CI=.008, 0.032, p=.001) and in the sex-specific analyses, men who scored higher on agreeableness (B=-0.086, 95% CI=-0.155, -0.016, p=.016) and women who scored lower on agreeableness (B=0.074, 95% CI=0.014, 0.134, p=.016) had shorter LTL.
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FFM dimensions of personality were not associated with LTL in a sample of elderly individuals. The counterintuitive and sporadic sex specific finding on agreeableness requires replication. Overall our findings suggest that LTL, a biomarker of cellular aging, may not offer insight into the associations between personality, longevity and health.