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University of Missouri

The New Personality Trait

Health care providers should pay attention to patients’ personalities and spirituality.

spiritualityPsychologists have long studied five personality traits — neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness. But when Brick Johnstone, professor of health psychology, investigated predictors of health in Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Catholics and Protestants, he discovered what might be a sixth trait: spirituality.

In the study, both positive personality traits and positive spiritual beliefs were associated with better mental health. Personality was the stronger predictor.

Johnstone says that correlation suggests that spirituality — connecting to a higher power, communing with nature, feeling close to God — is an aspect of personality. “We’re born with a certain degree of and ability to connect with the divine just as some people are born with a certain degree of extraversion, openness to new experiences and neuroticism,” he says. “Some people are extroverted. Some are introverted. Some are spiritual. Some are not spiritual.”

Johnstone says this finding suggests ways that health care providers can help patients who are more spiritual cope and recover. “Forgiveness interventions might benefit individuals with chronic disabilities who are injured as the result of others’ actions, such as people in car accidents who get head injuries, or for people who blame themselves for the conditions in their lives or believe that they become injured because they are being punished by God.”