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Outgoing people live longer

Life lessons, courtesy of the apes.

By Rich_Maloof Dec 6, 2012 4:28PM

Confident, outgoing people who are socially engaged live longer lives. How can that be when the rest of us want so often to punch them in the face?

Yet, it’s true. A study from the University of Edinburgh newly affirms that personality is intertwined with physical well-being. This time, the evidence arrives courtesy of our genetic brethren, the apes.

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As published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B and reported on LiveScience, animal experts familiar with some 298 apes from North American zoos and sanctuaries were asked to rate the animals on a set of personality traits including dominance, extroversion, neuroticism, and agreeableness. Researchers then compared the temperament assessments with information gleaned from over 18 years’ of data collected about the apes, including their life spans.

Of all the personality traits considered, only extroversion was linked to how long a gorilla was expected to live.

Researcher Alex Weiss was quoted by LiveScience as saying, “These findings highlight how understanding the natural history of personality is vital to ensuring the continued health and well-being of humans, gorillas and other great apes.”

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What’s so great about them apes? Well, apparently these knuckle-draggers are on to something that only a commensurate number of humans have figured out. When we can find our way to being positive, curious, and socially interactive, our lives get not only better but longer. Mental health stands to be rewarded with, and mirrored by, physical health.

The CDC estimates the average life expectancy for Americans at 76.3 years for men and 81.1 years for women. Studies have noted that people who outlive the averages tend to be optimistic and easygoing. It may be that one set of underlying genetics has dual influence on personality and longevity, though we’ve also seen powerful indications that a good attitude paired with a close-knit group of family and friends can be fundamental to overcoming health challenges, including some genetic conditions.

With social graces come social support systems, a built-in network for caregiving, and reduced stress. There’s strength and safety in numbers, goes the living logic, and sociable people win the numbers game.

Photo: Paul Souders/Getty Images

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