Upfront

How outgoing and reliable you are may be just as important to how well you age as your exercise and eating habits, said Oregon State University psychologist Karen Hooker, PhD, at an APA Annual Convention invited address sponsored by APA Divs. 20 (Adult Development and Aging) and 8 (Society for Personality and Social Psychology).

"Much of what we know about optimal aging has focused on the lifelong importance of health-related behavior - exercise, drinking and eating in moderation ... being engaged in life and having a strong social network," she said. "But personality is arguably the driving force behind all of these."

For example, Hooker's recent research has shown that extraversion and conscientiousness predict longevity, and that having high levels of neuroticism predicts cardiovascular disease and early mortality.

Hooker's research has also found that older adults who care for ailing spouses experience less stress and fewer depressive symptoms if they've thought through their goals and expectations about their caregiver roles to give them meaning, she said. While such research can help promote healthy aging, aging adults can also benefit from psychology's theories on personality, she said. Late life is often when a person's personality is most evolved.

"As individuals age, they become increasingly like themselves," Hooker said, quoting aging research pioneer Bernice Neugarten.

-J. Chamberlin