Neurotics Live Longer, Study Says

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Neurotics Live Longer, Study Says
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Before the term was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual in 1994, “neurosis” was considered a mental disorder. However, the stigma attached to the words neurosis and neurotics exists even until today. While the characteristics of mental disorders that used to be attached to the diagnosis of neurosis are now specifically linked to problems with social anxiety, panic, and obsessive-compulsive behavior, neuroticism is still considered one of the “big five” personality traits a person has. The term “big five” was coined in the early 1990s by Lewis Goldberg, a psychologist and senior researchers from the University of Oregon. [1]

More Than Its Negative Connotations

As a personality trait, neuroticism has actually been to linked to positive effects as well, one of which is creativity. A 2015 study by Perkins, et. al., found that self-generated thought in neurotic people could lead to an increase in creativity, although this kind of creativity can also lead negative feelings or unhappiness. The researchers focused on how neuroticism was largely based on an increase in sensitivity to threat (very similar to paranoia) even in non-threatening environments. This leads them to another characteristic of neuroticism, which is self-generated thought and is often linked to better creativity. [2]

An earlier study in 2005 focused on the effects of neuroticism on cognitive behavior, specifically mental processing. According to Robinson and Tamir, there was a positive link between neuroticism and variation of performance among 242 college undergraduate students. Variability of performance was characterized by better reaction times to varied tasks, leading to better adaptability and work performance. [3]

Going back further in time, specifically in 1991, reveals that neuroticism was also linked with increased motivation, largely due to negative thinking. The 1991 study discovered that people diagnosed with neuroticism who continually thought about negative outcomes were more motivated to work harder to improve their performance. Of course, in neurotics, this characteristic was amplified which meant that they worked harder than individuals who were mentally healthy. [4]

Preventing Premature Death

Neurotics have demonstrated an increased ability when it comes to self-preservation. Because neurotics are characteristically pessimistic but covertly motivated, they tend to plan and execute those plans better than a healthy person. Data taken from the UK Biobank published in mid-2017 found that there was an overall reduction in mortality in people with higher neuroticism. Gale, et. al. concluded that after adjusting their initial data with external factors, the results revealed that “higher Neuroticism was associated with an 8% reduction in all-cause mortality”, compared to the 6% increase in mortality in the initial findings. They attributed this reduction in mortality to neuroticism’s covert protective association, which leads to better self-preservation. [5]

Even if neurotics rated their health poorer than it actually was, this was actually protective against earlier death since they were more health conscious in return. The researchers discovered that neurotics were also more likely to seek medical attention or use health care services, which leads to better health outcomes. Self-care was overall better in neurotics, which can contribute to their longer lifespan. All in all, the more worried a person with neuroticism was, the better his or her health turned out to be. [6]

The results from Gale and her researcher’s study argues against initial beliefs that people with neurosis lived shorter, poor quality lives because of their depression and anxiety; when what they found was in fact, the opposite! Neurotics were actually living higher quality and healthy lives compared to normal individuals – and they actually live longer because of their neuroticism.


[1] Goldberg, L. (1990). An Alternative “Description of Personality”: The Big-Five Factor Structure.

[2] Perkins, A., et. al. Thinking too much: self-generated thought as the engine of neuroticism.

[3] Robinson, M. & Tamir, M. (2005). Neuroticism as mental noise: a relation between neuroticism and reaction time standard deviations.

[4] Buss, D. (1991). Evolutionary Personality Psychology.

[5] Gale, C., et. al. (2017). When is Higher Neuroticism Protective Against Premature Death? Findings from UK Biobank.

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