Differential Epidemiology: The Mind and Mortality

September 6, 2019
Differential epidemiology is a new field that studies the factors that come into play in people who use the health system and whether or not they follow their treatments. Two of them have now been presented: the five personality traits and the G factor of intelligence.

The main goal of the field of differential epidemiology is to establish a link between intelligence (or the G factor), personality traits, and mortality. 

In a study conducted at the University of Edinburgh in 2017, researchers discovered a link between people who showed signs of intelligence as children and their eventual deaths. They concluded that the higher someone’s intelligence is at age 11, the more likely they were to live over 80.

In other words, there seems to be a link between the G factor and putting into practice healthy habits, taking the recommended medications, following a treatment regime, exercising, and eating a balanced diet.

Differential epidemiology

This may mean that besides allowing us to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, or grasp complex ideas, our intelligence may also be a good predictor of life expectancy. If your G factor is any lower than 85, according to the researchers, it becomes a risk factor.

Apparently, the G factor isn’t just about following treatments for illnesses. It may also help with anticipating and preventing unexpected accidents. Some studies show that people with an IQ under 85 are three times more likely to have or die in a car accident than people with an IQ over 115.

The hard part about drawing conclusions is that not all people receive the same medical treatments, and our health system doesn’t take the G factor into account at any point. But if it did, we could better treat people with low IQs.

If this is really the case, then we’d be dealing with an issue of lack of accessibility in our current health system. It might not make much sense at first, but the key to improving our medical care may not be just offering more services. The real answer might be to provide the right care for a person with a specific G factor and personality.

Differential epidemiology symbolized by a picture of tin foil head with a jigsaw puzzle piece cut out of it.

Mortality and personality

The G factor doesn’t seem to be the only thing that influences a person’s mortality. Studying this side of things also isn’t exclusive to differential epidemiology. The five traits Goldberg listed, openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism, may also play an important role in terms of medical care.

In the case of personality traits, people have studied the possibility that various personality traits may be the root of certain disorders. 

For example, conscientiousness would have to do with the use of alcohol beverages, cannabis, and tobacco. Neuroticism would be linked to depression, anxiety, and phobias. Cordiality would have to do with things such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), hang-ups, and schizophrenia.

In the same way, these personality traits may also have a very practical relationship with your general health. Considering the integrative model of personality, we can see that some factors are more important than others. 

That’s the case with conscientiousness, or self-control, which regulates temperamental systems defined by other traits. For example, agreeableness is related to irrational beliefs, aggressiveness, and impulsiveness.

Thus, a doctor would have to factor in a person’s conscientiousness levels to determine a treatment plan. Of course, they’d also have to look at the other traits and go through the same basic process.

Phenocopies with psychological profiles

The importance of differential epidemiology is more obvious when you think about what adapting medical care to people’s G factors could mean. If researchers keep studying this field, we may be able to develop profiles based on a person’s genes and their interaction with their environment.

That would help us better understand how a person’s intelligence and personality traits impact the way they live their lives. From there, we could develop a psychological profile to find the ideal way to plan for things such as surgeries, a certain type of medication, or what day someone needs a check-up. 

A hand with a hologram of a DNA strand hovering over it.

Things we could put into practice

Although we definitely don’t have enough studies on individual genetics and differential epidemiology, we could still start to implement certain things in check-ups, surgeries, and medical treatments. This would be a first step to leveling out the playing field for people with different IQs.

Some other things related to the G factor could be easy to implement. For example, not expecting a certain reading level, communicating exactly what a patient needs to do (and not do), making prescriptions easier for the general public to understand, using simpler vocabulary, and omitting redundant information.

As far as personality traits, we’d have to personalize medical care based on each patient’s particular traits. This could include something broad such as giving people the right medication for their personality.

For example, you wouldn’t give someone with high extraversion medication that could impact their social life. But you could give someone with high conscientiousness a medication that would affect their concentration because they could deal with that side effect. Or you could work directly on a therapeutic relationship with someone with low agreeableness.

All of these things would do more than just help people get the most of out of the healthcare system. It would make the system itself more effective and fast and increase the likelihood of patients sticking to a treatment.

Knowing a patient’s intelligence and personality profiles would also help doctors create prevention plans for certain unhealthy behaviors. By knowing how people digest information, they can find the best way to convey that information.

  • Colom, R. y Flores, C. (2001). Inteligencia y Memoria de Trabajo: La relación entre factor G, Complejidad Cognitiva y Capacidad de Procesamiento. Psicologia: Teoria e Pesquisa, 17(1), 037-047.
  • Colom, R. (2017). Epidemiología cognitiva: un estudio poblacional prospectivo. España. Recuperado de: https://robertocolom.wordpress.com/2017/12/15/epidemiologia-cognitiva-un-estudio-poblacional-prospectivo/