If you know or suspect you might score highly on neuroticism as a personality trait, I have some unfortunate news for you: According to new research published in the journal Human Brain Mapping, neurotic people have worse memories than non-neurotic people. And by “I have some unfortunate news for you,” I also mean, “I have some unfortunate news for me,” because, well… I'm not exactly the most laid back of people. Maybe this explains my overwhelming urge to make lists of everything I need to do in order to make extra, extra sure I don't forget anything.
The new study comes to us from researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. In order to examine the relationship between personality and brain plasticity — that is, whether certain personality traits correlate with your brain's ability to adapt, grow, and learn — they teamed up with a few colleagues from the UL and Switzerland and zeroed in on one particular trait as their focus: Neuroticism. Why neuroticism? Because it's “universally implicated in making things difficult for people, whatever they might be doing,” said lead author Sophia Frangou to Smithsonian. “These associations have been known, but there was no mechanism to say why one thing influenced the other.”
No, Bones. Not that kind of mechanism.
It's worth noting that the sample size was relatively small — just 40 adults — but the study is still fascinating. Those 40 adults performed a memory test that asked them to pick out when a letter displayed on a screen matched one from a sequence of letters previously displayed… but there was a catch, of course: While they were taking the test, their brain activity was measured via functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Later on, the participants also took a personality test meant to measure them on the Big Five traits of neuroticism, extroversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.
As you may have already guessed, the researchers found a correlation of note: People who scored higher in neuroticism did less well on the memory test than their non-neurotic counterparts. Frangou theorized that it had something to do with the fact that neurotic people are often preoccupied with every terrible outcome that could possibly emerge from any given situation: “We found that people who are more neurotic, perhaps because they have a tendency to worry, were less efficient,” she said to Smithsonian.
Neuroticism hasn't just been linked with poor memory, though; tons of other somewhat unusual characteristics often display in neurotic people, as well. What types of characteristics? These four, to start — which really explains so much to me about myself. Seriously, you guys. Looks like for my next psychological test post, I'm buckling down on finding out whether I'm clinically neurotic…
1. Neurotic People Often Have Poor Health
Studies have linked neuroticism to everything from heart disease to lung disease, although exactly why neurotic people suffer poor health compared to their less-neurotic pals remains to be seen. One study suggested that it has something to do with how communicative certain personality types are with healthcare professionals, but the jury's still kind of out on that one.
2. They're Also Better Pet Owners
I'm really resisting the urge to make a crazy cat lady joke here, but, well… too late. Since I am one, though, maybe we can just let it go this time. Anyway, research from California State University-East Bay and UC Berkeley found that people who score highly in neuroticism also have a high level of affection for and dependence on their pets — which, argued co-author Mikel Delgado, is actually great for the pets in terms of getting better care.
3. Sadly, Neurotic People Get Paid Less
A study published in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization this spring found that neurotic people might be paid as much as $2,000 less than extroverted, outwardly confident ones. It's not that they do their jobs badly; it's just that they're often shy, nervous, and anxious, which can unfortunately hurt your chances for a raise. At least the study also found that neurotic people also gain respect over time, though, so… there's that.
4. But They Also See Faces In Inanimate Objects
This one? This one is OK. I get a kick out of things that look like they have faces. They're hilarious.