Conscientiousness, Relationships, and Health

by Rachel Thorson, Kenyon ’18

Are you in a healthy relationship? What makes a healthy life?

In attempts to answer these questions, personality psychologists have been investigating the connection between conscientiousness and health via implementing and immunizing behaviors. Conscientiousness, or “the socially prescribed impulse control that facilitates task- and goal-directed behavior” (Corker, 2015), has been found to have the most consistent and valuable predictors of positive health outcomes, as well as a positive effect on a number of physiological markers.

Recent studies have shown that people tend to choose partners who have conscientious behaviors and have a healthier relationship because of it (Jackson et al., 2010). Since conscientious people focus on making their relationships work rather than dragging out a unhappy relationship, they not only have a higher relationship satisfaction but additionally are less likely for their relationships to end in a divorce or breakup.

Dyrenforth, Kashy, Donnellan, & Lucas, 2010, support Jackson’s research with their experiment that tested whether or not conscientious individuals and their partners have greater relationship satisfaction than unconscientious individuals. In their study, they took self-reports of conscientious married individuals in Australia and the United Kingdom. The results backed up their hypothesis of greater relationship satisfaction for conscientious people, and one study showed that multiple facets of conscientiousness might be even more beneficial for relationship satisfaction than a single facet.

To add onto these findings, Thorsetinsson, Schutte, Bhullar, & Rooke, 2010, did some meta-analysis work to find if having a conscientious partner fosters a more positive relationship. Their work showed a strong correlation between the two factors across cross-sectional male and female reports. One aspect not considered in either of these two studies is the role that similarity between the partners plays for their relationship satisfaction, and considerations of the personalities of each partner. Holding a high perception of a partner’s conscientiousness may also have an effect on the second study; a partner may have a greater marital relationship satisfaction by believing their partner has a different level of conscientiousness than they actually do.

Less research and studies have been conducted on whether or not conscientiousness has a role in the status and duration of a relationship. Roberts et al., 2007, predicted that conscientiousness leads individuals to “[work] toward a better relationship” and therefore have “a longer and more intact [relationship]”. In his study, he found that conscientiousness predicts lower divorce rates by taking personality reports of children – focusing on conscientiousness – and seeing their likelihood of divorce when they were adults. Most evidence from this study and others in the same field shows that conscientious individuals stay together longer with their partners than those with a low level of conscientiousness.

Another aspect of the relationship between conscientiousness and healthy relationships that has been considered is the temptations towards infidelity or revenge. Buss & Shackelford conducted a study in 1997 to access this relationship. They collected reports of married male and female individuals that reflected on the possibility of infidelity for both them and their spouses based on their perceptions of their personalities. The results showed that “conscientious partners are perceived as more likely to refrain from betraying their spouses, and even report a decreased likelihood to cheat on their partners”. Barta & Kiene, 2005, conducted a study similar to this for college students and also found that conscientiousness individuals have a decreased tendency to cheat on a partner, emotionally or physically.

Hill, Nickel, & Roberts, 2011, conducted a study in order to determine the benefits conscientiousness has on an individual’s physical health in addition to marital satisfaction. They sent out a cross-sectional nationwide report asking people questions about their marriage in order to determine if all facets of conscientiousness, not just one, predict relationship satisfaction, if these predictions hold true when it comes to physical health, and if “relationship satisfaction [can] help explain the linkages between conscientiousness and different health outcomes”.

The results of their study showed that all facets on conscientiousness are indeed positively related to marital satisfaction. The strongest facets were for responsibility and virtue, which makes sense since conscientious partners should sincere and responsible when it comes to their relationship. Another result of their test is that marital satisfaction is negatively correlated with physical functioning but positively correlated across the other health aspects tested in the study. Lastly, the tests disproved that marital satisfaction does not predict a physical health aspect. It appears that conscientiousness predicts and benefits emotional health but not physical health.

Concluding from all of these studies, conscientiousness has been proven to predict healthy relationships due to their conscientiousness’ implementing and immunizing behaviors. In addition to healthy relationships, conscientiousness levels have been tested to see if they additionally aid in overall physical health, which was disproven to be true.

References

Hill, P.L., Nickel, L.B., & Roberts, B.W. (2014). Are you in a healthy relationship? Linking conscientiousness to health via implementing and immunizing behaviors. Journal of Personality, 82, 485-492.

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