Summary: The effects of lead exposure on overall health have been well document, but a new study reveals early exposure to pollution can have a detrimental effect on personality. Researchers report those who were born following the decline of environmental lead levels had more mature personalities and were more conscientious and less had lower levels of neuroticism than those born in generation with higher lead levels.
Source: The Conversation
Children raised in areas with more atmospheric lead pollution grew up to have less adaptive and less mature personalities, according to a study I led of over 1.5 million people across the U.S. and Europe. As adults, they were less conscientious, less agreeable and, in some cases, more neurotic.
To determine whether lead exposure causes personality changes, my team and I examined personality differences before and after the U.S. 1970 Clean Air Act. This law forced companies to remove lead from gasoline and led to massive reductions in atmospheric lead.
We compared local changes in atmospheric lead levels with changes in that area’s average personality trait scores, using data from an online personality questionnaire assessing Big Five personality traits: openness to experience (intellectual curiosity and creative imagination), extraversion (sociability and assertiveness), conscientiousness (organization and responsibility), agreeableness (compassion and respectfulness) and neuroticism (tendency toward anxiety, depression and hostility).
We found that people born after lead levels began to decline had more mature personalities than those born when lead levels were high. They were slightly more conscientious, more agreeable and less neurotic.
This suggests that lead may actually cause personality changes.
Personality traits are generally quite stable across time. But researchers have found that personality can change in response to life experiences. Because personality change has widespread consequences, my team and I plan to continue studying how other experiences like traveling abroad in college or learning to use the internet in old age affect personality.
About this psychology and environmental neuroscience research news
Source: The Conversation Contact: Ted Schwaba – The Conversation Image: The image is in the public domain