EDINBURGH, Scotland — Can over-worrying about everything and anything help you live longer? It turns out that being neurotic may actually carry certain health benefits for some, a new study finds.
Researchers in England looked at data of over 500,000 individuals, aged 37 to 73, pulled from the UK Biobank, a data facilitator that provides health information about participants for research.
The individuals studied had completed a personality assessment that measured self-reported levels of neuroticism, along with whether one considered their health to be in excellent, good, fair, or poor condition.
Data concerning one’s physical health (e.g., BMI), health behaviors (e.g., workout regimen), chronic conditions (e.g., cancer), and cognitive function was also examined.
The survey’s individuals were examined for years following their initial responses.
While the researchers noticed that neuroticism was by and large a predictor of increased mortality risk in the long run, this finding didn’t hold true for all individuals.
Namely, neurotic individuals who reported being in not as good health — i.e., fair or poor— were less likely to to die from any cause, including cancer.
In addition, “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,” says lead researcher Catharine R. Gale in a press release from the Association for Psychological Science.
“Being high in neuroticism may sometimes have a protective effect, perhaps by making people more vigilant about their health,” explains Gale.
Previous research has shown inconsistent results, making this study’s findings all the more captivating.
To be sure, the finding that neuroticism could help reduce the risk of early death was independent of any other variables.
“Health behaviors such as smoking, exercise, diet and alcohol consumption did not explain any part of the link between high scores on the worry/vulnerability facet and mortality risk. We had thought that greater worry or vulnerability might lead people to behave in a healthier way and hence lower their risk of death, but that was not the case,” states Gale.
The researchers plan to conduct further inquiry into understanding the health-conferring mechanisms behind neurotic behaviors, such as worry and vulnerability.
Gale et al. published their findings this month the journal Psychological Science.
Till recently, when effective contraceptives became available, neurotic anxiety about being unloved, unwanted, and alone likely had another fitness positive. Women suffering from it would likely have constantly needed sex to make them feel better, thus have had more children with more men than average. They may have indeed ended up as social outcasts but have left any genetic basis for their condition to more descendants.