Neurotic people live longer 'because they are more careful', study finds

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Being neurotic may have beneficial health effects, a surprising new study has suggested.

A sweeping study of half a million people in the UK found that people who claimed to be in poor health and who scored high on tests for neuroticism – which typically includes feelings of irritability, frustration and guilt – tend to live longer.

Although previous research has often linked fretting to poor health, the study found that people who suffer feelings of vulnerability and worry in particular actually tend to be blessed with longer lives.

More than 500,000 participants filled in a personality test measuring neuroticism and also reported whether they thought they were in excellent, good, fair, or poor health overall. 

Researchers then checked data from participants who died during a follow-up period of about six years. 

When the scientists looked at patients who rated their health as only “fair” or “poor”, they found that higher neuroticism was linked to lower risk of death, including from cancer.

Lead researcher Catharine Gale of the University of Edinburgh and University of Southampton revealed: “We also found that people who scored highly on one aspect of neuroticism related to worry and vulnerability had a reduced risk of death, regardless of how they rated their health.”

The links could not be accounted for by unhealthy habits such as smoking or drinking alcohol, leading Professor Gale to suggest that neurotic people may be more careful.

“Our findings are important because they suggest that being high in neuroticism may sometimes have a protective effect, perhaps by making people more vigilant about their health,” said lead researcher Catharine Gale of the University of Edinburgh and University of Southampton.

The researchers plan next to investigate why feelings of vulnerability and worry appeared to have such a beneficial effect in particular.


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