Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Longevity & The Big Five

Photo by Rob Nguyen.
As a gerontologist, I frequently come across questions about what factors correlate with longevity?

Even in the popular press, I run regularly run across interviews of centenarians and supercentenarians who are asked, "What is the secret of living a long life?"

Their answers are varied and often include a claim that a certain food or beverage gives them super aging powers. 

While I am very charmed by interviews, I read evidenced-based research with a little more attention. 

There are a handful of studies that suggest the Big Five Personality Traits influence longevity. 

The Five Factor Model (FFM) focuses on these five traits:
  1. Openness to Experience
  2. Conscientiousness
  3. Extroversion
  4. Agreeableness
  5. Neuroticism
You can take a test to see how you score for each of these five factors.  I could work a little more on controlling my neuroticism (the score that is ideal if lower where they other four are ideal if higher).  

A study of Japanese centenarians by Masui et al published in 1999 found that their research participants were high in Openness, Conscientiousness, and Extroversion.  Surprisingly, the women in their sample were also high in Neuroticism. So their is some hope for me--even if it takes me a few decades to dial down in that area. 

While I am not conducting any formal research on this theory myself, I do observe informally that my centenarian friend Gladys Bever displays many positive personality traits, including Conscientousness, Agreeableness and Low Neuroticism. 

Gladys was born in 1910 in Yuba County, California (near Marysville). She was married to Cecil Bever, a minister. She raised three children who were all ordained to be ministers--one going on to minister to others in different ways, first as a teacher then as a government attorney. 

Gladys has a positive outlook on life. She never gossips. She avoids conflict and drama. She is easy going and kind.  She loves to read and prefers books that are inspirational and uplifting.  

She is a woman of great faith and displays a lot of patience towards trials. While she has been very responsible here whole life she recognizes that God, ultimately, is at the helm.  

At the end of next month, Gladys will turn 104, which will be twice my current age.  I meet with her about once a week and enjoy seeing the perspective of someone who has observed ten centuries of American history. She has also observed the growth and development of six generations of friends relatives (two generations above her, her own generation, and three generations below her).  

While I do love to read scholarly books and articles, I recognize that Gladys is a unique wealth of information of another kind.   Thank you for the example of positive personality traits! 



  1. One of my best friends is 85 and has more marbles than I do. I hope she lives as long as Gladys!

  2. Thanks for this great post! My father in-law in 87 and I totally think he is here for the long haul, I know he wants to be! Thanks again!

  3. Have you read "The Blue Zones" by Dan Buettner. Confirms these, and adds a few more. But I wonder, per Kathy Radigan's comment, does wanting to live longer help you live longer?

  4. I love the Five Factors Model. Something worth working on for everyone's benefit!

  5. Incredible on what she has seen, science, history, technology. What a treasure of knowledge!

  6. I was intrigued by the combination of factors and I only wonder if there is an equal benefit when a person is not these things, but attempts to be.

  7. My grandmother lived to be 98, and I'm convinced it was because she was curious and always learning, plus she was very well-loved. She never exercised, smoked for 35 years, ate what she liked and was very vain.