There’s something reassuring and entertaining about investigating our own personalities. After all, they’re what make us each unique.
But have you ever thought about whether your personality is a healthy one?
A new test from researchers at the University of California at Davis claims to identify if you have a “healthy personality” by using 30 facets of the Big Five model of personality traits, which organizes traits into five broad dimensions: extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, conscientiousness, and openness.
“Philosophers and psychologists have speculated on healthy personality functioning for generations,” Wiebke Bleidorn, PhD, associate professor of psychology at UC Davis and lead author of the study, told Healthline. “We married these ideas with one of the most common evidence-based models of personality traits in contemporary research: the five-factor model.”
Bleidorn explains that each of the dimensions in the model has six facets, such as gregariousness and assertiveness for extraversion, which is why the overall model includes 30 traits.
“We found that experts can reliably identify a healthy profile of scores on these 30 traits, and that this profile is specific, heritable, stable over time, and positively associated with a wide range of adaptive outcomes,” she said.
Read more Healthline: What the Big Five Personality Traits Can Tell You
To come to their conclusions, researchers first created a basic trait profile of a prototypical healthy individual. They then used data from seven independent samples of more than 3,000 participants who were college students or experts in positive psychology (the study of what makes life most worth living).
The responses were used to test whether the generated healthy profile can be used to assess healthy personality functioning at the individual level.
To do this, they computed a healthy personality index for each participant that indicated how similar their own individual personality profile matched the expert-generated profile for the healthy personality.
“At the practical level, this research shows that a single number can be used to represent psychological health. At a theoretical level, it integrates humanistic and trait theories about personality that have long been seen as competitors. For research, it provides an empirical means to quantify a construct regarded as important by both of these perspectives,” Bleidorn said.
What traits make a health personality?
Bleidorn says the psychologically healthy personality can be characterized by the following traits:
- capable to experience and express emotions
- confident in their own abilities
- emotionally stable
- fairly resilient to stress
She points out that psychologists and students in the study tended to agree on what traits are healthiest and least healthy.
“This suggests that there may be broad agreement about what traits are healthiest regardless of one’s training or background,” Bleidorn said.
As far as whether personality type can affect overall health, she says a lot of existing research shows that personality traits are strong predictors of important life outcomes, including mental and physical health, well-being, and even longevity.
“More research is needed to better understand the pathways through which broad personality dispositions, such as, e.g., higher levels of competence or lower levels of anxiety, may lead to be better health outcomes,” Bleidorn said. “The current state of evidence indicates that traits may impact health outcomes via both biological (e.g., lower cortisol levels) and behavioral (e.g., fewer risky health behaviors like smoking) pathways.”
Caroline Clauss-Ehlers, PhD, psychologist and associate professor at Rutgers University, agrees. However, she says cultural context is an important factor.
“In this study, a lot of what they’re talking about is resilience and being able to overcome adversity. Part of what we’ve been looking at in my research lab is that resilience is also driven by culture context,” Clauss-Ehlers told Healthline.
“So, what’s in the environment that is going to help the person?” she said. “For instance, in New York, there are pockets where there are a lot of cases of asthma and diabetes, so making good choices is important, but also having access to things that make you able to make those choices is important.”
Can you improve your personality's health?
While the UC Davis study identified specific traits that are most related to healthy functioning — such as self-esteem, self-concept, clarity, optimism, ability to resist impulses, and regulate behavior — Bleidorn says future research can now focus on interventions designed to improve behaviors related to these traits and healthy functioning.
“Keeping in mind that traits are fairly stable and not that easy to change,” she added.
Clauss-Ehlers believes people can absolutely improve the health of their personality — if they’re given the knowledge and awareness to do so.
Read more Healthline: The FOMO Is Real: How Social Media Increases Depression and Loneliness
“You can always work toward making good decisions or if you’re engaging in behavior that’s not good for your health, like smoking or drinking soda all the time. You can work toward changing that, but that often takes resources and support [so you’re able] to make an informed choice about having a healthy personality. The economic access and justice piece are critical, and that didn’t show up in the study,” Clauss-Ehlers said.
She adds that personality is always on a continuum.
“I don’t think it’s a black-and-white issue. We may be healthy in one area of our lives and not necessarily healthy in another area,” she said. “Someone may be a jogger or work out, but smoke cigarettes.”
Take the test
To determine if your personality is healthy, take the UC Davis test online.
But Bleidorn says there are a few things to keep in mind.
“The healthy profile is a very abstract amalgam, and this research does not preclude the likelihood that people who lead fulfilling and generative lives could have a very different configuration of personality traits,” she said. “There are likely a variety of paths to optimal functioning that are missed when the focus is on the healthiest profile, on average.”
While taking the test or any personality type test, Clauss-Ehlers says to think about context and ask yourself the following questions:
- Why are you completing the answers the way you are?
- Are you engaging in certain behaviors because you don’t have information to do otherwise?
“[Results of the test] are one piece of information, but there are other aspects of information that are important,” Clauss-Ehlers said. “Understanding why you have the personality factors that you do, why you make decisions that you do, and what information you have and don’t have access to is important, too.”