Extra Healthy Extroverts?

by Georgina Hartono

Cough. Cough. Cough. Does that sound all too familiar to you? Are you having trouble reading this sentence because you just sneezed on your copy of Bandersnatch? Do you have constant headaches? If you have answered yes to any of these questions, fear not, because researchers are proposing a new prescription that cannot be obtained in the local pharmacy. They are prescribing more social encounters because they have concluded that extroverts have a stronger immune system than introverts, in a recent study that analyzed the correlation between extraversion and the body’s ability to resist to illness.

Scientists at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom got an ethnically diverse group of 121 healthy people to complete a series of personality tests that evaluated their extraversion, neuroticism, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Then, the researchers took their blood samples to assess the activity of the two groups of genes responsible for the regulation of their immune systems: one that controls the body’s inflammatory response while the other is in charge of the antiviral responses and antibodies. Upon the completion of the experiment, researchers have concluded that there is indeed a correlation between personality and the immune system. On average, the genes that trigger inflammation, which is an immune response that helps the body fight infection and recover from injury, are 17% more active in extroverts than in introverts.

Dr. Kavita Vedhara, a health psychologist participating in the research, explained, “Individuals who we would expect to be exposed to more infections as a result of their socially oriented nature (i.e., extroverts) appear to have immune systems that we would expect can deal effectively with infections”. She also added that individuals who engage in fewer human encounters, and thus who are less exposed to infections, have immune systems that are not as conditioned to treat these infections. In other words, extroverts are more resistant to sickness compared to introverts. However, this statement is not entirely accurate in the long run, as sustained inflammation over a lifetime can make a body vulnerable to fatal diseases such as diabetes, arthrosclerosis, and cancer.

Despite the fact that this provocatively interesting idea is gaining attention, more research is required to strengthen the link between extraversion and the immune system. Even then, further proof of this correlation does not necessarily guarantee considerable differences in health because altering a person’s personality is notoriously difficult. Furthermore, according to Dr. Vedhara, assuming that the connection is legitimate, the next course of action is to determine in which way the causality runs: is biology determining psychology or is our psychology influencing our biology? For now, as many questions remain unanswered, to prevent a cold, we can always apply the long-withstanding technique promoted by mothers all across the country: wearing warm jackets.

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