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Personality and Life Outcomes

Reviewed by Psychology Today Staff

If personality traits truly set individuals apart in meaningful ways, then they should also be related to other differences between people—including how they fare in life, for better or worse. And that is exactly what scientists who study personality have found.

Each major personality factor examined by psychologists has been linked to one or more outcomes of interest, from measures of achievement to mental health to satisfaction in romantic relationships. This suggests that personality matters in a broad way. The associations between personality differences and life outcomes only show general tendencies: While very extroverted people report higher well-being than very introverted people, on average, there are countless happy introverts. But the findings do, on the whole, reveal something about the experiences and challenges that people with certain personalities tend to face.

Do personality traits actually cause greater success or rockier relationships, or do traits and outcomes all stem from some shared, underlying factors? It’s difficult to determine how much personality itself is responsible for our ups and downs, though there is reason to believe that traits do have some impact on the important domains of our lives with which they are linked.

Personality, Well-Being, and Health

Both mental and physical health are related to differences in personality. From how happy people are with their lives at any given point to matters of life and death, people who rate higher on some personality traits and lower on others appear to be in better shape.

What are the links between personality and happiness?

On measures of psychological well-being, people higher in extroversion and conscientiousness tend to rate better, while those higher in neuroticism rate worse. Here, as in other domains, the positive outcomes of people with certain traits—in this case, the highly extroverted and conscientious—may relate in part to the positive situations (such as rewarding social encounters) that these people are likely to create for themselves.

Do people with certain personalities live longer?

Personality traits have been linked to health risk and life expectancy. Research finds that people who are higher in conscientiousness, extroversion, and agreeableness face a lower risk of dying, on average, while people high in neuroticism are at greater risk overall. Evidence suggests the increased risk of smoking among more neurotic people plays a small role.

Personality and Relationships

Individuals spend much of their lives in relationships, and personality traits such as extroversion and agreeableness are highly socially relevant. So it's sensible that how well people get along with romantic partners may depend, in part, on their distinct personality features. Research supports the idea that some traits correspond with higher-quality relationships.

How are the Big Five traits associated with relationships?

One of the traits most relevant to social life is extroversion: More extroverted participants in studies have rated higher on measures of social success, such as self-perceived status and acceptance of peers. Higher extroversion, conscientiousness, and agreeableness also seem to correspond with somewhat greater satisfaction in romantic relationships, on average. Neuroticism has been linked to poorer romantic outcomes. 

How are attachment styles linked to relationship satisfaction?

Attachment styles, which can also be thought of as elements of one’s personality, have also been connected with relationship outcomes. Research suggests that those who are “insecure” in their attachments—who exhibit high anxiety or avoidance related to close relationships—tend to be less satisfied with their relationships.

Personality and Success

Beyond the likelihood of living a long life and finding romantic satisfaction, personality traits appear to be relevant to more conventional forms of achievement. From grades, to career interests, to income, science has uncovered associations between how individuals' traits and successes stack up.

Do people with certain personalities make more money?

If success is to be measured in dollars and cents, people who rate highly on certain traits seem to have the overall advantage. Research has connected high agreeableness with lower earnings and high conscientiousness with greater earnings. However, one’s line of work undoubtedly matters: certain jobs may call for more or less extroversion, conscientiousness, openness to experience, or other traits, and a closer match to the job’s demands may spell greater success. 

How is personality related to a person's work?

Extroverted study participants have exhibited stronger tendencies toward leadership and higher occupational commitment, on average, while those higher in neuroticism seem to have somewhat lower commitment. Personality may also shape a person’s career interests. People higher in openness, for example, have shown a stronger inclination toward artistic occupations.

Judging Personality

Everyone has a distinctive personality, and human beings start trying to get a read on each other immediately. These first impressions may not be completely accurate—but personality differences do have links to outward behavior and even appearances, which can provide early hints about what an individual is generally like. Over time, witnessing how a person tends to think and act in different situations will likely provide a better picture of the person’s traits.

Do first impressions accurately reflect a person’s personality?

To an extent, they can. Some research suggests that even based on a photograph of someone, people’s judgments—while far from perfect—accord with those of the individual to a significant degree for some traits, including extroversion.

How is personality related to appearance?

Dress, facial expression, and other visible details may offer signals of personality. Smiling and looking energetic might be signs that a person is relatively extroverted, for instance. Looking healthy and relaxed may indicate emotional stability. Some researchers even report that distinctive eyebrows may provide a signal of grandiose narcissism. Psychologists have also found evidence that the condition of one’s surroundings is associated to some degree with personality traits. For instance, having an organized bedroom was associated with conscientiousness, while displaying varied books was linked to greater openness to experience.

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