Conscientiousness is a personality trait that can have many positive benefits. People who are highly conscientious are less vulnerable to negative affect, significantly lowering the risk for stress and the many health problems that can result from stress. Conscientiousness can also help protect people from psychological problems related to negative mood, such as depression and anxiety. Some research has even suggested that highly conscientious people are less prone to anger and aggression when they are confronted with frustrating tasks. Kristin N. Javaras of the Laboratory of Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin wanted to test the mechanisms underlying conscientiousness further. In a recent study, Javaras examined how emotional regulation—specifically, emotional recovery after negative stimulation—was affected by conscientiousness.
In her study, Javaras reviewed self-reports from 273 adults ranging in age from 35 to 85. She asked the participants to report their levels of conscientiousness and how it related to their emotional self-control. She then assessed emotional reactions and emotional recovery two years later and found that conscientiousness positively affected self-control and emotional recovery in the middle-aged participants the most. In particular, Javaras found that those high in conscientiousness had better emotional recovery from negative stimuli than those low in conscientiousness. This link was not as strong in the younger or older participants. Also, there was no indication that conscientiousness affected reaction time or recovery from positive or neutral emotional cues.
“Our results suggest that (middle-aged) individuals higher on conscientiousness, especially its self-control facet, are better able to automatically down-regulate negative affect,” Javaras said. Although these findings held constant regardless of sex, there could be other factors that contributed to these results. First, the participants were not instructed to respond in a particular way, suggesting that other personality traits may influence emotional recovery. Also, the participants were not swayed to respond in socially acceptable ways because the experiments were conducted with one participant at a time. Taken together, these conditions raise questions about how other factors might contribute to conscientiousness and its many physical and psychological benefits. Javaras hopes future work will focus on how demographic, social, and personal nuances affect conscientiousness.
Javaras, Kristin N., Stacey M. Schaefer, Regina C. Lapate, Lawrence L. Greischar, David R. Bachhuber, Gail Dienberg Love, Carol D. Ryff, and Richard J. Davidson. Conscientiousness predicts greater recovery from negative emotion. Emotion12.5 (2012): 875-81. Print.
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