Skip to main content

High Neuroticism and low Conscientiousness are associated with interleukin-6

  • A. R. Sutin (a1), A. Terracciano (a1), B. Deiana (a2), S. Naitza (a2), L. Ferrucci (a1), M. Uda (a2), D. Schlessinger (a1) and P. T. Costa (a1)...

High Neuroticism and low Conscientiousness are frequently implicated in health-risk behaviors, such as smoking and overeating, as well as health outcomes, including mortality. Their associations with physiological markers of morbidity and mortality, such as inflammation, are less well documented. The present research examines the association between the five major dimensions of personality and interleukin-6 (IL-6), a pro-inflammatory cytokine often elevated in patients with chronic morbidity and frailty.


A population-based sample (n=4923) from four towns in Sardinia, Italy, had their levels of IL-6 measured and completed a comprehensive personality questionnaire, the NEO-PI-R. Analyses controlled for factors known to have an effect on IL-6: age; sex; smoking; weight; aspirin use; disease burden.


High Neuroticism and low Conscientiousness were both associated with higher levels of IL-6. The findings remained significant after controlling for the relevant covariates. Similar results were found for C-reactive protein, a related marker of chronic inflammation. Further, smoking and weight partially mediated the association between impulsivity-related traits and higher IL-6 levels. Finally, logistic regressions revealed that participants either in the top 10% of the distribution of Neuroticism or the bottom 10% of conscientiousness had an approximately 40% greater risk of exceeding clinically relevant thresholds of IL-6.


Consistent with the literature on personality and self-reported health, individuals high on Neuroticism or low on Conscientiousness show elevated levels of this inflammatory cytokine. Identifying critical medical biomarkers associated with personality may help to elucidate the physiological mechanisms responsible for the observed connections between personality traits and physical health.

Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: Dr A. R. Sutin, Laboratory of Personality and Cognition, National Institute on Aging, NIH, DHHS, 251 Bayview Blvd, Baltimore, MD21224, USA (Email:
Hide All
Adler N, Matthews K (1994). Health psychology: Why do some people get sick and some stay well? Annual Review of Psychology 45, 229259.
Aiken LS, West SG (1991). Multiple Regression: Testing and Interpreting Interactions. Sage: Thousand Oaks, CA.
Bouchard G, Lussier Y, Sabourin S (1999). Personality and marital adjustment: Utility of the five-factor model of personality. Journal of Marriage and Family 61, 651660.
Bremmer MA, Beekman ATF, Deeg DJH, Penninx BWJH, Dik MG, Hack CE, Hoogendijk WJG (2008). Inflammatory markers in late-life depression: Results from a population-based study. Journal of Affective Disorders 106, 249255.
Chapman BP, Khan A, Harper M, Stockman D, Fiscella K, Walton J, Duberstein P, Talbot N, Lyness JM, Moynihan J (2009). Gender, race/ethnicity, personality, and interleukin-6 in urban primary care patients. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity 23, 636642.
Chida Y, Hamer M (2008). Chronic psychosocial factors and acute physiological responses to laboratory-induced stress in healthy populations: A quantitative review of 30 years of investigations. Psychological Bulletin 134, 829885.
Costa PT Jr., McCrae RR (1992). Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R) and the NEO Five-Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI) Professional Manual. Psychological Assessment Resources: Odessa, FL.
Costa PT Jr., Terracciano A, Uda M, Vacca L, Mameli C, Pilia G, Zonderman AB, Lakatta E, Schlessinger D, McCrae RR (2007). Personality traits in Sardinia: Testing founder population effects on trait means and variances. Behavior Genetics 37, 376387.
Davidson KW, Schwartz JE, Kirkland SA, Mostofsky E, Fink D, Guernsey D, Shimbo D (2009). Relation of inflammation to depression and incident coronary heart disease (from the Canadian Nova Scotia Health Survey [NSHS95] Prospective Population Study). American Journal of Cardiology 103, 755761.
Doyle WJ, Gentile DA, Cohen S (2006). Emotional style, nasal cytokines, and illness expression after experimental rhinovirus exposure. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity 20, 175181.
Gimeno D, Kivimäki M, Brunner EJ, Elovainio M, de Vogli R, Steptoe A, Kumari M, Lowe GD, Rumley A, Marmot MG, Ferrie JE (2009). Associations of C-reactive protein and interleukin-6 with cognitive symptoms of depression: 12-year follow-up of the Whitehall II study. Psychological Medicine 39, 413423.
Goodwin RD, Friedman HS (2006). Health status and the five-factor personality traits in a nationally representative sample. Journal of Health Psychology 11, 643654.
Harris TB, Ferrucci L, Tracy RP, Corti MC, Wacholder S, Ettinger WH Jr., Heimovitz H, Cohen HJ, Wallace R (1999). Associations of elevated interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein levels with mortality in the elderly. American Journal of Medicine 106, 506512.
Judge TA, Higgins CA, Thoresen CJ, Barrick MR (1999). The big five personality traits, general mental ability, and career success across the life span. Personnel Psychology 52, 621652.
Löckenhoff CE, Sutin AR, Ferrucci L, Costa PT Jr. (2008). Personality traits and subjective health in the later years: The association between NEO-PI-R and SF-36 in advanced age is influenced by health status. Journal of Research in Personality 42, 13341346.
Macy EM, Hayes TE, Tracy RP (1997). Variability in the measurement of C-reactive protein in healthy subjects: Implications for reference intervals and epidemiological applications. Clinical Chemistry 43, 5258.
Maggio M, Guralnik JM, Longo DL, Ferrucci L (2006). Interleukin-6 in aging and chronic disease: a magnificent pathway. Journals of Gerontology, Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences 61, 575584.
Mangold DL, Wand GS (2006). Cortisol and adrenocorticotropic hormone responses to naloxone in subjects with high and low neuroticism. Biological Psychiatry 60, 850855.
Marsland AL, Prather AA, Petersen KL, Cohen S, Manuck SB (2008). Antagonistic characteristics are positively associated with inflammatory markers independently of trait negative emotionality. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity 22, 753761.
Martin LR, Friedman HS, Schwartz JE (2007). Personality and mortality risk across the life span: The importance of conscientiousness as a biopsychosocial attribute. Health Psychology 26, 428436.
Miller GE, Rohleder N, Cole SW (2009). Chronic interpersonal stress predicts activation of pro- and anti-inflammatory signaling pathways 6 months later. Psychosomatic Medicine 71, 5762.
Ozer DJ, Benet-Martinez V (2006). Personality and the prediction of consequential outcomes. Annual Review of Psychology 57, 401421.
Penninx BWJH, Kritchevsky SB, Yaffe K, Newman AB, Simonsick EM, Rubin S, Ferrucci L, Harris T, Pahor M (2003). Inflammatory markers and depressed mood in older persons: Results from the health, aging and body composition study. Biological Psychiatry 54, 566572.
Pilia G, Chen WM, Scuteri A, Orrú M, Albai G, Dei M, Lai S, Usala G, Lai M, Loi P, Mameli C, Vacca L, Deiana M, Olla N, Masala M, Cao A, Najjar SS, Terracciano A, Nedorezov T, Sharov A, Zonderman AB, Abecasis GR, Costa P, Lakatta E, Schlessinger D (2006). Heritability of cardiovascular and personality traits in 6,148 Sardinians. PLoS Genetics 2, 12071223.
Preacher KJ, Hayes AF (2008). Asymptotic and resampling strategies for assessing and comparing indirect effects in multiple mediator models. Behavior Research Methods 40, 879891.
Reichenberg A, Yirmiya R, Schuld A, Kraus T, Haack M, Morag A, Pollmächer T (2001). Cytokine-associated emotional and cognitive disturbances in humans. Archives of General Psychiatry 58, 445452.
Rohleder N, Marin TJ, Ma R, Miller GE (2009). Biologic cost of caring for a cancer patient: Dysregulation of pro- and anti-inflammatory signaling pathways. Journal of Clinical Oncology 27, 29092915.
Sjögren E, Leanderson P, Kristenson M, Ernerudh J (2006). Interleukin-6 levels in relation to psychosocial factors: Studies on serum, saliva, and in vitro production by blood mononuclear cells. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity 20, 270278.
Stewart JC, Rand KL, Muldoon MF, Kamarck TW (2009). A prospective evaluation of the directionality of the depression-inflammation relationship. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity 23, 936944.
Sutin AR, Costa PT Jr., Miech R, Eaton WW (2009). Personality and career success: Concurrent and longitudinal relations. European Journal of Personality 23, 7184.
Sutin AR, Costa PT Jr. (in press). Reciprocal influences of personality and job characteristics across middle adulthood. Journal of Personality.
Terracciano A (2003). The Italian version of the NEO PI-R: Conceptual and empirical support for the use of targeted rotation. Personality and Individual Differences 35, 18591872.
Terracciano A, Löckenhoff CE, Crum RM, Bienvenu OJ, Costa PT Jr. (2008 a). Five-factor model personality profiles of drug users. BMC Psychiatry 8, 22.
Terracciano A, Löckenhoff CE, Zonderman AB, Ferrucci L, Costa PT Jr. (2008 b). Personality predictors of longevity: Activity, emotional stability, and conscientiousness. Psychosomatic Medicine 70, 621627.
Terracciano A, McCrae RR, Brant LJ, Costa PT Jr. (2005). Hierarchical linear modeling analyses of the NEO-PI-R scales in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. Psychology and Aging 20, 493506.
Terracciano A, Sutin AR, McCrae RR, Deiana B, Ferrucci L, Schlessinger D, Uda M, Costa PT Jr. (2009). Facets of personality linked to underweight and overweight. Psychosomatic Medicine 71, 682689.
Tyrka AR, Wier LM, Price LH, Rikhye K, Ross NS, Anderson GM, Wilkinson CW, Carpenter LL (2008). Cortisol and ACTH responses to the Dex/CRH Test: Influence of temperament. Hormones and Behavior 53, 518525.
Wilson RS, Mendes de Leon CF, Bienias JL, Evans DA, Bennett DA (2004). Personality and mortality in old age. Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences 59, 110116.
Zobel A, Barkow K, Schulze-Rauschenbach S, von Widdern O, Metten M, Pfeiffer U, Schnell S, Wagner M, Maier W (2004). High neuroticism and depressive temperament are associated with dysfunctional regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical system in healthy volunteers. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 109, 392399.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0033-2917
  • EISSN: 1469-8978
  • URL: /core/journals/psychological-medicine
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 8
Total number of PDF views: 143 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 684 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 18th November 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.