The Bold and the Beautifulby Jennifer Gibson, PharmD | July 3, 2010
Personality is a complicated interplay of traits that influence well-being, cognition and mental health. The so-called Big Five personality traits include extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness. It is difficult to quantify personality characteristics and their roles in mood, behavior and reasoning, but several recent studies have proclaimed the significant effect of extraversion — the trait that includes talkativeness, excitability, assertiveness and sociability — on everything from positive mood to creativity and humor.
Personality and positive mood influence cognition, including creativity, executive function and free recall. One recent study found that the more extraverted an individual, the greater the induction of positive mood. Extraverts are apparently predisposed to a happier, more positive affect; they also enjoy enhanced creativity compared to introverts — individuals who tend to be more introspective and less outgoing and sociable.
Extraversion also influences stress and coping abilities. Extraverts perceive less work place stress and may actually thrive in a challenging workplace as they problem-solve and investigate new ways to handle challenges. A study of intensive care unit nurses posits that extraversion, along with other personality traits, should be part of pre-employment screenings and recruitment strategies for high-stress work environments. A similar study found the same associations among medical residents at high risk of burnout and suggested personality characteristics should be used to identify clinicians who may not be able to cope effectively with the emotional demands and physical stress of being a medical resident.
Subjective well-being is significantly mediated by personality traits. Once again, extraverts fair better in reporting life satisfaction and happiness than their less outgoing peers; extraverts are happier and report higher well-being across all dimensions of mental and psychological health. Another recent study even found that extraversion was positively correlated to humor among individuals shown a humorous advertisement: the more extraversion, the funnier the advertisement.
Personality research has concluded that personality stabilizes by early adulthood. Adolescents and young adults undergo changes in personality as they mature, but personality stabilizes by about 30 years of age. Changes in personality are not influenced by gender, ethnicity, education or secular trends. In other words, we are what we are, and personality is a defined physiological element of each individual. Even after dementia changes a person’s behavior and cognitive ability, pre-morbid personality traits positively predict actions and reactions.
Are the most outgoing truly the happiest? Are introverts destined to a life devoid of happiness, creativity and humor? Personality traits do not paint the whole picture of a person. Different traits confer different skills and strengths, and being comfortable with one’s own qualities and individuality bestows greater well-being than any quantifiable level of introversion or extraversion.
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