Five-factor model (FFM) personality traits have been associated consistently with risk of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD). Less is known about how these traits are associated with functioning in specific domains of cognitive function in older adulthood.
Participants (N = 2865) were drawn from the 2016 Harmonized Cognitive Assessment Protocol sub-study of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS). Participants completed a battery of cognitive tasks that measured performance in five domains: Memory (eight tasks), speed-attention-executive (five tasks), visuospatial ability (three tasks), fluency (one task), and numeric reasoning (one task). Participants completed an FFM personality measure as part of the regular HRS assessment in either 2014 or 2016. Linear regression was used to examine the association between the traits and each cognitive task and composite scores for the five domains, controlling for age, sex, race, ethnicity, and education. We also tested whether the associations were moderated by these sociodemographic factors or mental status.
Neuroticism was associated with worse performance on all of the cognitive tasks. Conscientiousness was associated with better performance across all five cognitive domains, although not necessarily with every task. Openness and Agreeableness were associated with better performance in all domains, except for numeric reasoning. Extraversion was associated with better speed-attention-executive and fluency. There was no robust evidence that the association between personality and cognition was moderated by sociodemographic characteristics or global cognitive function.
Personality traits have pervasive associations with functioning across five cognitive domains. Consistent with the literature on personality and risk of ADRD, Neuroticism and Conscientiousness were associated with cognitive performance in the expected direction in all domains. Extraversion was the only trait that showed domain-specific associations. The present research supports models of personality and health in the context of cognition and suggests that personality is associated with intermediate markers of cognitive health.