An important study was recently published by Laura Kubzansky of the Harvard School of Public Health and her colleagues. They looked at longitudinal data from a diverse sample of individuals from the Providence area, They goal was to investigate whether childhood personality characteristics predicted adult physical health. Research participants were 569 individuals originally studied at age 7 and then decades later at age 35.
Childhood personality characteristics were measured by raters who observed the children and how they actually behaved. Adult health was assessed in two ways: the individual's own judgment of his or her health as excellent, good, fair, or poor, and the number of doctor-diagnosed serious illnesses, like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, asthma, arthritis, stroke, bleeding ulcer, tuberculosis, and hepatitis.
Statistical analyses included the usual suspect controls (e.g., childhood health, childhood family socioeconomic status, gender, and ethnicity). Even with these controls, two childhood personality characteristics predicted adult health assessed by self-report and by diagnosed illnesses. Children high on attention - defined as staying focused on a task and persisting at problem solving - had better health as adults, as did children low on distress-proneness - defined as reacting to events with negative emotions, These associations were modest in size but reliable and rather remarkable given all the other factors that can and do affect physical health.