Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Conscientiousness

3 Key Benefits of Being Conscientious

1. Less risk of cognitive decline.

Key points

  • Being conscientious is highly related to success at school and work, to good relationships, and to longevity.
  • Recent research has found conscientiousness is also related to healthy aging.
  • Conscientious people experience more inner satisfaction as they live their lives.
Image by Nick Youngson, CC3.
Source: Image by Nick Youngson, CC3.

When you think of a person who is conscientious, what comes to mind?

You might envision someone who sets and meets goals, someone who is almost always on time, someone who keeps their promises, or someone who gets the job done. You might think of someone who is predictable in their habits, detail-oriented, and responsible—a "rule-follower."

You might also harbor a few negative stereotypes about conscientious people. Maybe you demean them as super-serious and humorless or people so dutiful that they don’t—or can’t—have any fun.

In psychology, “conscientiousness” describes a basic personality trait that “reflects the tendency to be responsible, organized, hard-working, goal-directed, and to adhere to norms and rules,” according to this summary at psychologytoday.com. It is one of the Big Five “OCEAN” personality traits often studied in psychology research. (The acronym OCEAN stands for openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism [a.k.a. emotional stability, or lack thereof].)

Being conscientious offers numerous advantages in life. Generally, conscientious people are more productive, have better health and safety habits, earn more, and have better relationships. As summarized in this post, “Conscientious people live longer, get better grades, commit fewer crimes, earn more (along with their spouses), have greater influence, are more likely to lead companies that succeed long-term, are happier at work, and have better marriages.”

Recent research has come up with three additional outstanding benefits of a conscientious life that might not be so obvious, especially if you tend to underrate the value of being conscientious. In fact, these benefits may seem surprising, at least until you think about them more deeply. Then they make complete sense. Because I think these benefits might convince you to improve your own conscientiousness, I'll offer a few ways to do this in the last section.

Based on recent research, here are three benefits to add to an already impressive list of advantages to conscientious behavior:

Benefit 1. Conscientious People Have Less Risk of Cognitive Decline as They Age.

According to a research summary, older adults who scored high on the trait of conscientiousness on personality tests had a 22 percent decreased risk of progressing from normal cognition to mild cognitive impairment as they aged. Another way of saying this: 80-year-old participants “lived two years longer without cognitive impairment compared with individuals who were low in conscientiousness.” That is an impressive difference in cognitive health span.

This data came from 1,954 participants in the Rush Memory and Aging Project. These participants had a median age of 80 and had taken yearly personality assessments. Because participants were mostly white, female, and well-educated, generalizing from the study is somewhat problematic.

However, another recent study also supports the relationship between conscientiousness and brain health. In this 2021 study, researchers analyzed 12 studies involving more than 3,000 participants to uncover the relationship of the traits of conscientiousness and neuroticism to the development of Alzheimer's disease. They discovered that those individuals strong in conscientiousness and low in neuroticism had fewer of the protein deposits that are markers of Alzheimer’s disease.

Why might being conscientious ward off cognitive decline? One possibility is that conscientious people engage in life-long learning, building up what psychologists call “cognitive reserve.” "Cognitive reserve," the extra neurological structures and networks built by stimulating and educational experiences, offers some protection against brain diseases.

A second possibility is that because conscientious people take good care of their physical health, they end up enhancing their brain health, too. Although there are genetic factors in the development of dementia, medical experts now believe that 12 modifiable risk factors account for up to 40 percent of dementias. Some key behaviors to follow include these: avoiding alcohol and drugs, maintaining low blood pressure, quitting smoking, following a healthy diet, exercising, and connecting with others.

Benefit 2. Conscientious People Have More Objective Success (Income and Wealth).

Benefit 3. Conscientious People Have More Subjective Success (Life Satisfaction, Positive Affect, and Lack of Negative Affect) in Their Lives.

I'm describing these two benefits together since they come from the same study, a fascinating piece of research from psychologist Angela Duckworth ("Grit") and her colleagues. The study's title perfectly summarizes its conclusions: "Who Does Well in Life? Conscientious Adults Excel in Both Objective and Subjective Success." Results came from analyzing data from the Health and Retirement Study, using data from 9,646 people with an average age of 68.

By "objective success," the study authors mean measurable results, such as income and wealth. The fact that conscientious individuals earn more income and accumulate more wealth might not be surprising. Responsible people are the kind who get rewarded, first in school settings, then at work. They spend their earnings wisely and save for retirement.

But if you picture conscientious people as rather dull worker bees, you might not have predicted that conscientious people experience more inner satisfaction as they live their lives. This "subjective success" refers to "an individual's personal assessment of his or her life situation." Feeling happy about one's place in life seems to be linked to the pursuit of meaningful, long-term goals and living up to personal standards. Conscientious people are contented people.

Want to Be More Conscientious? A Few Quick Tips

Try these easy ways to become more conscientious:

Image by Nick Youngson, CC3, picserver.
Source: Image by Nick Youngson, CC3, picserver.
  1. Set goals. Target one meaningful goal. Break that goal down into small steps, and tackle one of those steps.
  2. Consider a support group. If you need more structure than you can provide on your own, surround yourself with responsible others. Example: If you want to quit drinking, join AA.
  3. Be responsible to others. Call if you need to cancel an appointment; don't just let it drop. Take on a few household chores: Make the bed or do your share of the shopping and laundry.
  4. Take breaks. Yes, you can integrate fun and rest into your life and be conscientious, too! Taking strategic breaks could even help you be more productive. Everyone needs R & R.
  5. Admit it when you are wrong. I recently read this useful phrase: "I hadn't thought of it that way before." Memorize it, say it.
  6. Write it down. If you think of a must-do task, immediately write it down, send yourself an email, or put it on your calendar. You'll be more likely to remember it and to do it.
  7. Get older. People become more conscientious as they age. I like to think that's because older people realize what their most important values are and begin to act on them in large and small ways.

(For more ideas, check out these PT posts from Carolyn Beaton and Marty Nemko.)

In a Nutshell

Conscientious people are not without faults. For example, yes, they might need to loosen up and become more flexible in certain situations. (If so, I'm sure they will work conscientiously on this problem.) Still, the benefits of a conscientious life far outweigh the liabilities.

If you lead a conscientious life, you will reap multiple rewards, both now and in your future.

(c) Meg Selig, 2022. All rights reserved.

LinkedIn image: Prostock-studio/Shutterstock. Facebook image: Stockbusters/Shutterstock

References

American Psychological Association. (2022, April 11). Certain personality traits associated with cognitive functioning late in life: People high in conscientiousness, low in neuroticism, less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 3, 2022 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/04/220411101359.htm.

Florida State University. (2021, October 12). Personality traits linked to hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 3, 2022 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/10/211012185709.htm

Duckworth, A.L. et al, "Who Does Well in Life? Conscientious Adults Excel in Both Objective and Subjective Success." Frontiers in Psychology, 2012, Vol. 3, p. 356.

advertisement