Friends are best predictors of our long-term health, lifespans – study

Reuters/Benoit Tessier
Friends are the most accurate readers of our potentially fatal habits. A study has found that our pals are more likely to predict when we'll die and if we'll get ill, since we're often blind to our own traits.

The study – titled 'Your Friends Know When You're Going to Die' – analyzed 300 couples from their 20s to their deaths. It was conducted by researchers from Washington University in St Louis, and began in the 1930s. The results were published in the journal Psychological Science.

The bride and groom were asked questions about their own personalities, and then the same questions were put to their friends.

Some of the questions were about how long they thought they would live. It was found that friends were a more accurate predictor of someone’s lifespan than the person themselves. This, the researchers believe, is because friends often see traits that we cannot see ourselves – or that we choose to ignore.

“First, friends may see something that you miss; they may have some insight that you do not. Second, because people have multiple friends, we are able to average the idiosyncrasies of any one friend to obtain a more reliable assessment of personality,” said Dr. Joshua Jackson, one of the lead researchers.

Men whose friends perceived them as reliable, conscientious, and imaginative ended up living longer. This is almost certainly because those positive personality traits would translate into concrete action on issues such as eating well, regular exercise, and looking after themselves.

Reuters/David Ryder

On the other hand, men who are less reliable and conscientious take more risks – including smoking, drinking too much, or driving without a seatbelt.

“Our study shows that people are able to observe and rate a person’s personality accurately enough to predict early mortality decades down the road. It suggests that people are able to see important characteristics related to health, even when their friends were, in the most part, healthy and years from death,” said Dr. Jackson.

Emotionally stable women – who are more likely to fight off anger, depression, and anxiety, and are better suited to being an easygoing wife – are more likely to live longer.

“Our study shows that people are able to observe and rate a person’s personality accurately enough to predict early mortality decades down the road. It suggests that people are able to see important characteristics related to health, even when their friends were, in the most part, healthy and years from death,” said Dr. Jackson.

“It demonstrates that information from friends and other observers can play a critical role in understanding a person’s health issues,” he added.

Overall, the study found that people who are outgoing, hardworking, organized, and relaxed are less likely to suffer serious health conditions like strokes, heart conditions, or arthritis.

Writing in the Guardian in reference to the study, psychologist Oliver Burkeman said that “you may be especially badly suited to figuring out whom you should marry, where you should live or what job you should do – precisely because you’re you.”

He also pointed out that if an experience “changes you so much that you’re a different person, how can you really know, in advance, what that future person’s wants and needs will be?”