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Scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine have found that an individual's personality plays a strong role in determining how long he or she will live. In a study of over 500 Ashkenazi Jews over the age of 95, and 700 of their offspring, scientists paid particular attention to the group's 243 centenarians. They found that most had an outgoing, optimistic, and easygoing attitude. "They considered laughter an important part of life and had a large social network. They expressed emotions openly rather than bottling them up." Ashkenazi, or Eastern European, Jews were chosen for the study due to their genetically homogeneous makeup, allowing scientists to spot genetic differences within the study's population.
What's the Big Idea?
Previous studies have suggested that personality traits, positive and negative, have their roots in our genes, and that those genes may directly affect our health. Scientists behind the Einstein study were surprised to find positive personality characteristics associated with increased longevity, since a gristly attitude might be more suited to weathering life's bumps. "When I started working with centenarians, I thought we'd find that they survived so long in part because they were mean and ornery," said Nir Barzilai, M.D., director of the Einstein's Institute for Aging Research. Still, personalities can change over time, leaving researchers to wonder if longevity is a cause or a result of old age.