- Particular combinations of personality traits may be associated with greater well-being.
- Researchers developed an index of healthy traits, and tested this index on a variety of data sets.
- Even if one doesn't possess the ideal set of healthy traits, they can still influence their behavior in healthy ways.
Over the past few decades, there has been an increase in attention from the research community to psychological health. Broadly, this movement has been called positive psychology to distinguish it from clinical psychology, which focuses primarily on disorders.
There has been some discussion of the traits of healthy people, but much of the research in this area has focused on character strengths and values. Less attention has been given to personality traits that might relate to psychological health.
This question was addressed in a paper by Wiebke Bleidorn, Christopher Hopwood, Robert Ackerman, Edward Witt, Christian Kandler, Rainer Riemann, Douglas Samuel, and Brent Donnellan in a 2020 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. They looked for a combination of facets of the Big Five personality traits (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism) that would characterize psychological health.
To start this investigation, the researchers asked experts in personality and positive psychology (as well as psychology students) to provide their recommendation for the facets (or subcomponents) of the Big Five that they felt were most predictive of psychological health. The consensus of these groups was that psychological health is likely to be most associated with a set of facets. These are:
- High levels of Openness to Feelings (a willingness to contemplate and engage with your feelings).
- High levels of the Positive Emotions facet of Extraversion (reflecting that you experience positive feelings).
- High levels of the Straightforwardness facet of Agreeableness (reflecting that you tend to be truthful in your dealings with others).
- Low levels of all facets of Neuroticism (which reflect low levels of anxiety, anger, depressiveness, impulsivity, and vulnerability).
The researchers then explored this profile in more detail. They ran a sample of undergraduates through personality profiles two times over a two-week time period, and found that this index had a high level of test-retest reliability—that is, people gave similar ratings for themselves at each time. Looking at existing data sets, they also found that this profile could be assessed reasonably well by other people making ratings of a person rather than self-reports.
Then, the researchers used existing data sets to examine the relationship between this personality profile and other measures of psychological health. They found that people high in this “healthy” psychology profile (compared to people low in this profile) had higher levels of happiness, life satisfaction, and optimism; were better at self-control; were less likely to act with aggression, hostility, and anger; and were less antisocial. The healthy profile was also negatively associated with aspects of psychopathy like being manipulative, mean, callous, and having criminal tendencies. Interestingly, the healthy psychology profile was unrelated to scores on narcissism indexes. That likely reflects that some aspects of narcissism (like leadership and authority) are associated with psychological health, while others (like vanity and entitlement) are not.
This research suggests that there are some personality profiles that are associated with psychological health. If you happen to have that set of traits, then that bodes well for you. But what if you have a different profile? It is important to remember that personality characteristics reflect the tuning of your motivational system. All else being equal, you will be motivated to act in a particular way. For example, if you are high in the anxiety component of neuroticism, then you will tend to worry about situations. But you can work to focus on more positive aspects of situations and calm yourself when you begin to worry. Having a set of traits that differs from the ideal “healthy personality” profile just means that you should be aware of some of the characteristics you have that may get in the way of overall well-being. Recognizing when you are doing things that get in the way of your happiness and satisfaction is a first step toward acting differently in those situations.
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Bleidorn, W., Hopwood, C. J., Ackerman, R. A., Witt, E. A., Kandler, C., Riemann, R., Samuel, D. B., & Donnellan, M. B. (2020). The healthy personality from a basic trait perspective. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 118(6), 1207–1225. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspp0000231