Women With Higher Neuroticism Are Less Physically Active

Summary: Middle-aged women who scored high on extraversion personality traits were more likely to report being physically active during leisure time than those who scored high in neuroticism.

Source: University of Jyväskylä

Personality traits help to understand why some people are physically active and others are not. A new study from the Gerontology Research Center and the Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland, shows that the role of personality may vary depending on how physical activity is measured.

Personality traits reflect people’s characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving. A study at the University of Jyväskylä focused on two traits: extraversion and neuroticism. Individuals who score high in extraversion are typically social, active and talkative. High scores in neuroticism indicate a tendency to have negative feelings, such as anxiety and self-pity.

The results showed that high extraversion and low neuroticism were linked to higher leisure time physical activity in middle-aged women. Women who scored high in extraversion reported more physical activity, but this was not seen in the physical activity measured by an activity monitor. Women who scored high in neuroticism reported less physical activity and had less physical activity captured by activity monitors.

“Even though both methods assess the frequency, duration and intensity of physical activity, they measure partly different aspects of physical activity,” explains postdoctoral researcher Tiia Kekäläinen from the Gerontology Research Center. “Activity monitors are better at capturing all daily stepping activities whereas self-reporting better accounts for all types of physical activities. Therefore, it is natural that results are partly different between different physical activity measures. It is important to use both ways to assess physical activity behavior.”

Personality traits may explain individual tendencies to estimate one’s own physical activity level

Personality may explain the way individuals assess their own level of physical activity. The results showed that older adults scoring high in neuroticism reported less physical activity than what was measured by accelerometers.

This shows a woman exercising
Women who score high in extraversion report more physical activity. Image is credited to University of Jyväskylä.

“Neuroticism describes a predisposition to experience negative feelings,” Kekäläinen says. “In addition to lower willingness to participate in physical activities, this kind of tendency seems to be related to underreporting physical activity behavior. The information about the role of personality could be used to help identify risk groups for inactivity and in physical activity promotion work.”

Two larger research projects conducted at the Gerontology Research Center and Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences provided data for the study: from a total of 314 older men and women aged 70 to 85 years who participated in the PASSWORD study, and from 1,098 middle-aged women aged 47 to 55 years who participated in the ERMA study.

Funding: The research was part of the PATHWAY project funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture of Finland. The research was conducted in collaboration with researchers from the University of Jyväskylä, LIKES Research Centre for Physical Activity and Health, and Florida State University.

About this psychology research article

University of Jyväskylä
Tiia Kekäläinen – University of Jyväskylä
Image Source:
The image is credited to University of Jyväskylä.

Original Research: Open access
“Accelerometer-measured and self-reported physical activity in relation to extraversion and neuroticism: a cross-sectional analysis of two studies” by Tiia Kekäläinen, Eija K. Laakkonen, Antonio Terracciano, Tiina Savikangas, Matti Hyvärinen, Tuija H. Tammelin, Timo Rantalainen, Timo Törmäkangas, Urho M. Kujala, Markku Alen, Vuokko Kovanen, Sarianna Sipilä & Katja Kokko. BMC Geriatrics.


Accelerometer-measured and self-reported physical activity in relation to extraversion and neuroticism: a cross-sectional analysis of two studies

Personality reflects relatively stable and pervasive tendencies in feeling, thinking and behaving. While previous studies have found higher extraversion and lower neuroticism to be linked to higher self-reported physical activity levels, larger studies using accelerometer-measured physical activity are lacking. This study investigated the cross-sectional associations of extraversion and neuroticism with both accelerometer-measured and self-reported physical activity and the role of these personality traits in possible discrepancies between these two measures of physical activity among Finnish adults.

Two community-dwelling samples were used in this study: a) 47–55-yr-old women (n = 1098) and b) 70–85-yr-old women and men (n = 314). In both samples, extraversion and neuroticism were assessed by the 19-item short form of the Eysenck Personality Inventory. Physical activity was assessed with hip-worn tri-axial accelerometers and self-reported questions. Regression analyses were adjusted by age, BMI and education.

In the middle-aged women, neuroticism was negatively associated with accelerometer-measured leisure time moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (β = −.07, p = .036) and with self-reported physical activity (β = −.08, p = .021), while extraversion was positively associated with self-reported physical activity (β = .10, p = .005). No associations of extraversion or neuroticism with physical activity were found in the older men and women. Older adults who scored high in neuroticism reported less physical activity than what was measured by accelerometers (β = −.12, p = .039). Extraversion was not associated with discrepancy between self-reported and accelerometer-measured leisure time physical activity in either sample.

Neuroticism was associated with lower leisure-time physical activity levels and extraversion with higher self-reported physical activity among middle-aged women. Neuroticism and extraversion were unrelated to physical activity among older adults, but older adults with high neuroticism seemed to underreport their physical activity level. The role of personality in the discrepancy between self-reported and device-based physical activity warrants further research.

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