Several personality/temperament traits have been linked to health outcomes in humans and animals but underlying physiological mechanisms for these differential outcomes are minimally understood. In this paper, we compared the strength of a behavioral trait (behavioral inhibition) and an associated physiological trait (glucocorticoid production) in predicting life span. In addition, we examined the relative stability of both the behavioral and physiological traits within individuals over a significant portion of adulthood, and tested the hypothesis that a stable behavioral trait is linked with a stable physiological bias. In a sample of 60 Sprague-Dawley male rats, we found that stable inhibition/neophobia was a stronger predictor of life span than stably elevated glucocorticoid production. In addition, these predictors appeared to have an additive influence on life span in that males with both risk factors (stable inhibition and consistently high glucocorticoid production) had the shortest life spans of all, suggesting both traits are important predictors of life span. Across a 4-month period in young adulthood, inhibition and glucocorticoid reactivity were relatively stable traits, however these two traits were not highly correlated with one another. Interestingly, baseline glucocorticoid production was a better predictor of life span than reactivity levels. The results indicate that glucocorticoid production in young adulthood is an important predictor of life span, although not as strong a predictor as inhibition, and that other physiological processes may further explain the shortened life span in behaviorally-inhibited individuals.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We thank M. Diep, I. Fassasi, A. Jefferson, K. Haskins, C. Matteo, J. McGovern, K. Mehta, J. Patel, J. Quinn, M. Stine and R. Smull for their assistance in data collection. We thank J. Graham, L.C. Klein, R. McCarter and R.W. Schrauf for their helpful feedback on the manuscript. This research was supported by NIMH R03 MH071406 (to SAC) and an internal Pennsylvania State University fund.
- Behavioral inhibition
- Life span