However, Friedman and Kern summarized research on another aspect of personality that deserves far greater media coverage and public awareness. There is a growing body of research that shows that conscientiousness affects “thriving, health, and longevity.” How big of an impact is conscientiousness? “Equal to or greater than that of many known biomedical risk factors,” they reported.
People who are conscientious tend to be responsible, organized, dependable, have more self-control, and even more grit. Conscientiousness is one of the Big Five factors of personality and has been consistently linked to success. This trait emerges early in life and is a “reliable lifelong predictor of healthy pathways and of health and longevity” (p. 731). Friedman and Kern suggested four behavioral reasons why this may be so. Conscientious people:
- Have healthier behaviors, such as smoking less, doing the small things that reduce risks (for example, using seat belts).
- Evoke healthier social environments through good friendships and better marriages.
- Are “more likely to have more successful, meaningful careers, better educations, and higher incomes”, all relevant to health and flourishing as adults
- Have negative stresses and emotions with less impact because they recover more quickly.
I had never thought about the enormous impact that being conscientious can have on our lives. I would have thought optimism to be a bigger player – but it is conscientiousness. It would be interesting to know if organizations with more people high on conscientiousness have lower health care costs.
So whom do you turn to when you have to get something done? It is probably someone with the knowledge, skills, abilities but also someone who is conscientious, who will make sure the job gets done and done right, who pays attention to detail, who makes things happen.
My guess is there can be too much of a good thing, the overly conscientious person who just takes too long to accomplish tasks, who slows down processes. But all things being equal, conscientiousness, attention to detail, should lead to superior performance – and healthier lives.
Friedman, H. S., & Kern, M. L. (2014) Personality, well-being, and health. Annual Review of Psychology, 65, 719-742
Image of Space Shuttle Trainer, Flight Deck, @ 2014 John Ballard. All rights reserved. Image taken at the National Museum of the United States Air Force near Dayton, Ohio.