Healthy Neuroticism Linked with Lower Levels of an Inflammatory Biomarker

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A new study suggests that healthy neuroticism may protect your body against inflammation. Researchers have found that some self-described neurotics tend to have lower levels of a biomarker known to play a role in inflammation and chronic disease. The study is published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity [1].

Conscientious & Neurotic

While conducting research into how the Big Five personality traits — openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism — can influence underlying biology to predict harmful conditions such as inflammation, researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) made a surprising connection.

They found that people who are both conscientious — meaning they are responsible, organized and goal-oriented, and thus more likely to be reflective  — and neurotic — meaning they are anxious, moody and obsessive, and thus more likely to worry — tended to have the lowest levels of circulating interleukin 6 (IL-6), a protein biomarker for inflammation and chronic disease.

Investigators analyzed data from 1,054 people who participated in the National Survey of Midlife Development in the U.S. (MIDUS) project. Study participants were evaluated for their health status, personality traits, physiological function and and disease-related biomarkers.

Among all the study participants, four hundred and forty one people scored moderate to high on traits of neuroticism and conscientiousness. Researchers found that higher scores of both traits were linked with lower levels of IL6 as well as lower body mass indexes (BMI) and lower rates of disease. The higher a person scored in both conscientiousness and neuroticism, the lower their levels of IL6.

The term “healthy neuroticism” was created in 2000 when researchers first described how conscientiousness may provide a dose of self-discipline that reduces unhealthy neurotic behaviors such as overeating, smoking, and drinking  — all of which have consequences for inflammation.

According to Nicholas A. Turiano, Ph.D., a post-doctoral fellow in the URMC Department of Psychiatry and primary author of the study [2]:

Speculation is that healthy neurotics may be hyper-vigilant about their lifestyle and about seeking treatment when a problem arises. It’s their conscientiousness that guides their decisions to prevent disease or quickly get treatment when they don’t feel well.

The researchers suggest that average to higher levels of neuroticism can — in cases where it is accompanied by high conscientiousness — be associated with health benefits. They propose that the use of personality profiling to identify at risk patients may lead to greater personalization in the prevention and treatment of chronic inflammation.


  1. Turiano et al. Big 5 personality traits and interleukin-6: Evidence for “healthy neuroticism” in a US population sample. Brain Behav Immun. 2012 Oct 31. pii: S0889-1591(12)00482-5. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2012.10.020. [Epub ahead of print]
    View abstract
  2. Being Neurotic, Conscientious, a Good Combo for Health. University of Rochester Medical Center. 2012 Nov 13.
About the Author

Walter Jessen is a senior writer for Highlight HEALTH Media.