Today's Dr. Sierra InfoPost is about a one-of-a-kind 80 year long research study which shows what personality trait is associated with the longest life.
And it so happens as well, that people who live the longest lives due to this personality trait, also live with the healthiest brain function!
Who is this type of person?
Is it the diligent and prudent person, the optimistic and happy-go-lucky person or some other personality type? (read about this fascinating study below and get the answer)
What is a normal life expectancy today?
By today's definition, an average age life expectancy is about 75 years.
A shorter than expected lifespan is about 50 or 60. To have greater longevity would mean we can expect to reach our late 70s, 80s, 90s or beyond!
80-Years Long Research Study
Lewis Madison Terman - Born January 15, 1877 - Died December 21, 1956
The 80-year study was started in 1921 by a Stanford University psychologist named Lewis Terman, a pioneer in educational psychology in the early 20th century at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. Terman was 44 years old at the time the study initiated and he himself conducted this research for the first 35 years, until his death in 1956.
The research was carried forward from 1956 to the 1990's by others, then taken to its conclusion from the 1990's to 2010 by Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin.
Friedman and Martin's findings are reported in the book,
The Longevity Project.
Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin Video Link - Click to watch video.
Terman, sought out gifted children from middle to upper middle class backgrounds in the LA area during the 1920s, asking teachers to pick out the brightest kids in their classes. He ended up with a group of 1,500 kids of mixed gender, all about 10 years of age. According to the prejudices of the time, most were white. His inclusion of girls however, was an important exception to the biases of the era, since women had only just gotten the right to vote, and had few career options.
Not an uncontroversial researcher, he himself was one who thought that intelligence was a heritable trait, something quite common in the early 20th century in the United States and in Europe.
Terman began research of gifted children in 1920's Los Angeles middle and upper class.
Terman was interested in sources of intellectual leadership and wondered if he could identify early glimmers of high potential. He intended to follow these children through their lives, well into their adulthood.
Is it possible to identify high potential early in a child's life, was his research question?
At the study's conclusion in 2010, these children would have been 100 years of age, and therefore, the majority would have passed away.
Terman collected all sorts of valuable information, including:
- the children’s family, schooling and activities' records
- the number of books in their houses
- how active they were in their playtime
- how happy their parents’ marriages were
Terman looked at their personalities—were they prudent, extroverted, cheerful, diligent, happy-go-lucky, persistent, impatient, optimistic, introverted or reckless?
The 1920s through the 1950s were a dynamic time in this country, and particularly in the urban LA area.
He then followed his participants as they grew up, made career choices and had families of their own.
These individuals would have experienced the Great Depression, World War II and the McCarthy era.
World War II
Bread line during the Depression.
Many of the participants wound up staying in California. Many men worked in exciting careers of the time, such as broadcasting, engineering and aviation.
Many of the women, consistent with the social norms of the time, often pursued teaching, nursing and secretarial careers, or were homemakers.
Most of the participants did not go on to be especially notable US citizens, but they were accomplished in their professions. The majority had professions, but some became technicians, or so-called blue collar workers. The majority went on to have singular marriages.
All of these individuals’ lives were well considered, both with research statistics and anecdotally.
Terman, Friedman and Martin utilized interviews of the study participants themselves and their relatives, incuding stories of their lives, careers, habits, marriages, vices and foibles, financial setbacks and so on.
What is unique about the Longevity Project is that there has been no other study about the factors that contribute most to a long and healthy life, where the end point was the lifespan of the participants. Most studies about longevity are purely self-report, where there is inherent inaccuracy with data primarily derived from participant surveys.
However in a study like this, there is no fooling with the data of a birth date, and death date.
After all the data for longevity was assessed, ALL factors were considered insignificant statistically except one, and that was the trait of being Conscientious.
Conscientious is defined as:
"A person wishing to do what is right, especially to do one's work or duty well and thoroughly."
A conscientious person is one who is diligent, one who plans and is prudent.
Optimism or happy-go-lucky expectations that life will unfold in the positive was not contributory to longevity of life.
The quality of being diligent, or conscientious, lead to a good number of study participants living out their dreams and wishes, finding connection and stability, and, living long and healthy lives.
The trait of being conscientious leads to longeveity of life.
Those who were optimistically hopeful that all good things in life would befall them, did not live the long lives.
Furthermore, the trait of being optimistic, if paired with the quality of being conscientious, did not have correlation with life longevity as did the isolated quality of being conscientious.
A child deemed to be optimistic or happy-go-lucky, more often had the following:
- disappointing results in his/her career
- took more risks that ended poorly, for instance with drugs, alcohol, or life risking actions
- had less fulfilling career development
- cultivated fewer long-lasting and meaningful relationships
- ultimately died earlier, having more health complications over a lifetime
Lest one think all these traits of being conscientious, persistent, responsible and prudent, lead to a boring and risk-less life, then the reader will be pleasantly surprised to find the exact opposite was found to be true.
Self-care, care for one’s work, and follow-through led to reward and advancement professionally.
These diligent individuals also had strong and rewarding relationships personally.
These rewarded persons, experiencing longevity of life, successful careers and socially connected lives had many stresses they endured along the way.
However, the purposefulness of their lives led to those stresses seemingly to have no measurable ill-effects in regard to longevity of life.
Stresses endured were step-in-step with rewards earned.
The research described above yields powerful suggestions for cultivating long lives AND successful, meaningful, productive lives as well.
Thoughtful and diligent people are more likely to care about their diet and other health-related behaviors, thereby making better health-related decisions.
And now, to get to the part about brain health: Conscientiousness seemed to correlate significantly with cognitive health. Not always, but notably.
From Dr. Sierra:
As a naturopathic physician, my observations are that a little bit of worry about one’s health, and about one’s life decisions, pairs well with good health and longevity of life.
I love working with the "worried well" as much as I love working individuals with specific health concerns.
I get to share the science of being well, to encourage a greater conscientiousness about health, to share my patients’ health journeys and to champion what is possible in their healing paths.
This concludes today's Dr. Sierra Blog Post and I hope you enjoyed learning more information about longevity of life. I cordially invite you to join me April 12, 2018, at the Methow Valley Wellness Center in Winthrop at 5:30 p.m. for a lecture on Living a Long and Healthy Life with a Vibrant Super Brain.