Eliminating racial health disparities is one of the overarching goals of the NIH Healthy People 2020 initiative. Despite efforts to do so over the past three decades, black-white gaps in health remain significant public health concerns. Innovative research is needed to enhance the effectiveness of health communications and interventions aimed at improving the health of black Americans. Personality is a key determinant of health outcomes, but research considering its impact on racial health disparities, and particularly on racial differences in developmental health trajectories, is lacking. Blacks may be more likely to endorse certain personality traits, such as mistrust, due to negative psychosocial experiences (e.g., racial discrimination, traumatic events). Mistrust may in turn reduce health care utilization or treatment adherence, leading to poorer health outcomes among blacks (Musa et al., 2009). Additionally, specific personality traits, such as neuroticism and impulsivity, may exacerbate the deleterious effects of stress on health by promoting health-damaging coping strategies, a process that may more robustly impact the health of blacks. Few studies have explored these research questions utilizing established constructs such as the five-factor model of personality. Furthermore, few studies have examined predictors of racial differences in changes in health over time. The current study will help fill this gap in the literature by considering the impact of personality, as well as the transaction between personality and stressful events, on racial differences in health trajectories over 2.5 years during late mid-life. Data will be analyzed from a longitudinal study that includes an epidemiological sample of 1,588 black (33%) and white (65%) adults ages 55-64 from St. Louis, Missouri. Health, health behaviors, and ongoing stressful life events were assessed at regular 6-month intervals following a baseline personality assessment. Informants (e.g., family members) also provided personality data about participants. Latent growth curve modeling, which models developmental change trajectories using data from multiple time points, will be used to test whether personality contributes to racial differences in health trajectories above and beyond socioeconomic status (i.e., income and education) and other correlates of health (i.e., health behaviors and marital status). In addition, we will examine the interactions among specific personality traits (e.g., conscientiousness, extraversion and neuroticism) and stressful life events to predict racial differences in health trajectories. Findings may encourage health disparities researchers to consider personality in future studies and to translate findings into interventions that target culturally relevant personality-related barriers to health.

Public Health Relevance

Personality traits may contribute to racial health disparities both directly and by influencing the health- damaging effects of stress. This research will examine the impact of personality, as well as the transaction between personality and ongoing stressful events, on racial differences in health trajectories over 2.5 years during late mid-life. Findings may encourage health researchers and professionals to address personality- related barriers to health, enabling the development of more effective interventions and policies aimed at eliminating health disparities.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
Program Officer
Nielsen, Lisbeth
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Washington University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
Saint Louis
United States
Zip Code