Research Suggests That Neurotic People Feel Older and Less Healthy

Our subjective age doesn't always correspond with our chronological age. Apparently, this difference increases, the older we get. In fact, the closer a person is to old age, the greater the distance between the age they are and the age they perceive themselves to be.
Research Suggests That Neurotic People Feel Older and Less Healthy

Last update: 08 June, 2022

We all have a chronological age, but also a subjective age. The first is our ‘real age’ and corresponds to the time that’s elapsed since our birth. The second is a bit broader and more imprecise. It relates to how young we feel in relation to our chronological age.

Available data indicates that there’s a close relationship between subjective age and personality. Indeed, an investigation conducted in 2021 and published in 2022 in Psychology and Aging, confirms this fact.

This study also suggested that the more neurotic people are, the more their feeling of being older increases. It applies to people of all ages. Thus, there are cases where even an extremely young person feels older based on their experiences or personal inclinations.

Old age is a time we can really look forward to. People have more fun and are at peace with who they are. I would love for everyone to say their age every year and celebrate it.”

-Tracey Grendon-

The study on personality and subjective age

Elderly woman, depicting that neurotic people feel older.
Neurotic people are seen with more functional limitations.

Scientists who studied the relationship between personality and subjective age drew on data contained in five studies. They were the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, the English Longitudinal Study of Aging, the Survey of the Middle Ages in the United States, the Health and Retirement Study, and the National Study of Health and Aging Trends.

The researchers selected a sample of these studies. They analyzed participants using the personality model known as the Big Five.

This model synthesizes personality traits into five categories: extroversion, openness, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism. Based on the available data associated with those five categories, a total of 30,000 participants were examined.

Initially, only sociodemographic information was taken into account. However, between four and 20 years later, this information was cross-referenced with data on personality traits and subjective age. The participants had a mean chronological age of between 46.9 and 78.9 years.

Study results

Senior woman thinking about ageotypes to age better
People with less neuroticism see themselves as more fulfilled.

The participants had to answer questions about how old they felt and how old they perceived themselves to be. The results indicated that the most neurotic people were also the ones who felt the oldest in relation to their chronological age. In contrast, the less neurotic saw themselves as younger and more fulfilled.

Subjective age was examined through a factor that was considered critical: health. The most neurotic people perceived themselves as having more functional limitations in their daily lives. They also felt that their health was deteriorating, engaged in less physical activity, and experienced more depressive symptoms.

However, the researchers cautioned that the findings were by no means conclusive. Furthermore, although a fairly large sample was addressed, it didn’t include people outside of the United States. Nor did it delve too deeply into personality traits. Therefore, it can’t be assumed that there’s a close link between subjective age and personality.

Other findings

In 2018, a group of South Korean scientists conducted a study concerning subjective age. In this study, the brains of 68 older adults in good health were examined. Those who said they felt younger showed greater density in their gray matter.  They also presented less deterioration associated with chronological age.

In this case, the scientists were unable to establish which came first: did good health lead to a lower subjective age, or did the perception of feeling younger make them feel healthier? Currently, there’s no answer to this question.

Psychologist, David Weiss of the University of Leipzig (Germany) thinks that subjective age only exists in societies that worship youth and nurture negative stereotypes about old age. In fact, in his experience, people from non-Western cultures don’t even understand the question “How old do you feel you are?”

Either way, scientists seem to agree that people age differently and that this has an impact on their vitality. Undoubtedly, those who have healthy habits stay active longer. This, perhaps, is what makes the difference.

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  • Kwak, S., Kim, H., Chey, J., & Youm, Y. (2018). Feeling How Old I Am: Subjective Age Is Associated With Estimated Brain Age. Frontiers in aging neuroscience10, 168. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnagi.2018.00168
  • Stephan, Y., Sutin, A. R., Kornadt, A., Canada, B., & Terracciano, A. (2022). Personality and subjective age: Evidence from six samples. Psychology and Aging. https://doi.org/10.1037/pag0000678.