Your Friends Know Whether Your Personality Will Eventually Kill You

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FRIENDS -- "The One With the Stoned Guy" Episode 115 -- Pictured: (l-r) Matthew Perry as Chandler Bing, Matt LeBlanc as Joey Tribbiani, David Schwimmer as Ross Geller.
Photo: Paul Drinkwater/NBC/Getty Images

Certain personality traits seem to affect a person’s mortality: Conscientiousness, for example, tends to be linked with longevity, while neuroticism is associated with earlier death. The problem, though, is that people are not great at accurately gauging their own personalities, which makes it harder to put this research to any practical use. But an upcoming paper in Psychological Science offers an interesting way around that: Instead of asking people directly about their personality, why not ask the people who know them best? 

The researchers, led by Joshua Jackson of Washington University in St. Louis, analyzed a study done in the 1930s, in which 600 people took a personality survey; five of their closest friends also rated the subjects’ personalities, according to science writer Wray Herbert’s post for the Association for Psychological Science. (The paper is not online yet.) Sure enough, the men whose friends rated them high on conscientiousness tended to live longer; likewise, the women whose friends gave them high points for emotional stability — considered the opposite of neuroticism — were also more likely to have longer lives.

But the women’s own assessments of their personalities did not accurately predict their mortality; the men’s self-reports were better, but still not as accurate as their friends’. Evidently, our friends sometimes see us more clearly than we can see ourselves.