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This is what a healthy personality looks like, researchers say

Certain personality traits are considered more healthy than others, according to new research from scientists at the University of California, Davis.

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For their two-part study, recently featured in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, lead author Wiebke Bleidorn and her colleagues asked 137 trait psychology experts to identify what a “healthy personality” would look like by rating the 30 facets of the five key personality traits: neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness and conscientiousness. Their ratings helped researchers create an expert consensus profile of the psychologically healthy individual. 
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The researchers then used this new expert-generated healthy prototype to analyze data on more than 3,000 study participants and yield a healthy personality index.

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“Although contemporary researchers have used basic trait models such as the Five Factor Model/Big Five domains to characterize personality disorders (e.g., Lynam & Widiger, 2001), little attention has been paid to the characterization of healthy personality from a basic trait perspective,” study authors wrote.

“We believe our results have both practical implications for the assessment of and research on health personality functioning as well as deeper implications for theories about psychological adaption and functioning,” lead author Bleidorn said in a statement.

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So, what does a healthy personality look like?

According to the research, individuals with high scores on the index possessed many of the following traits:

  • psychologically well-adjusted
  • open to feelings
  • ability to resist temptation
  • straightforward
  • competent
  • high self-esteem
  • spontaneous
  • responsible
  • ambitious
  • good self-regulatory skills
  • optimistic outlook on the world
  • clear, stable self-view
  • low in aggression and meanness
  • unlikely to exploit others
  • relatively immune to stress
  • self-sufficient
  • warm connection to others

Such healthy personality profiles also rated low in facets like depressiveness, vulnerability and angry hostility.

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While more research is needed to understand what drives healthy personality development, the study points out that healthy traits tend to increase with age. 

“According to this research, the average young adult tends to increase in traits that reflect maturity and psychological health, such as emotional stability or agreeableness. Longitudinal and behavioral genetic research suggest that both genes and life experiences contribute to individual differences in personality maturation,” authors wrote.

Having a healthy personality, researchers said, could predict an individual’s health state, quality of relationships, work and academic performance and more.

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Potential limitations

Researchers note that while the FFM for personality traits is widely used, “any single instrument can be challenged in terms of its accuracy for representing certain aspects of personality.”

Additionally, because the expert-rating approach for what constitutes a healthy personality is a “descriptive approach,” it may not “inform us about why different facets were thought to be optimal, and human history has proven many times that it is entirely possible for the views typical of a large body of experts to be wrong.”

Researchers also acknowledge that the use of Western convenience samples limits the applicability of their results and urge future studies to examine healthy personality profiles in different cultures using appropriately representative population samples. 

>> Related: Do you have a healthy personality? Take the test designed by study authors here. 

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