Your personality can invite loneliness, and loneliness can shape your personality

Posted on July 22, 2015

Photo: flickr

A study has shown that loneliness and feelings of health influence the way people's personality shifts in early to mid-life, and in turn how their personality affects those very same factors.

Over the fifteen-year span of the study, the participants on average grew more lonely and felt less healthy. Meanwhile, their scores on the personality traits of neuroticism and extraversion decreased over time, while their scores on agreeableness and conscientiousness increased.

But where people ended up in mid-life also depended to some extent on the kind of person they were in their youth. Specifically, people who scored higher in neuroticism in their twenties tended to be lonelier in mid-life; and people who felt less well and lonelier in their twenties tended in mid-life to score higher on neuroticism, but lower on extraversion and conscientiousness.

More intriguing still is the two-way dynamics between evolving personality factors on the one hand and changes to loneliness and subjective health on the other. In other words, feeling lonely when young appears to shape the course of personality development in an unfavourable way. And the reverse is true: for example, those participants who were less neurotic in their twenties and who grew more rapidly in extraversion with age tended to enjoy slower declines in health and slower increases in loneliness with age.

How might loneliness, or feeling less well, shape the way a person's personality develops? The researchers never speculate that perhaps it is through physical and social inactivity. Who we are is based partly on who we mix with and the part we play in our social relationships. People who lack this connection (and those with an initial anxious and introvert personality are more vulnerable to this state of affairs) are likely to miss out on these experiences, further shaping their personality in directions that lead to more isolation.

This is largely unexplored terrain and the study offers some tantalising glimpses of the dynamic two-way interactions between personality and loneliness and health.


Source material from