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J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2012 May;67(5):480-8. doi: 10.1093/gerona/gls090. Epub 2012 Mar 27.

Genes, environments, personality, and successful aging: toward a comprehensive developmental model in later life.

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Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455, USA.



Outcomes in aging and health research, such as longevity, can be conceptualized as reflecting both genetic and environmental (nongenetic) effects. Parsing genetic and environmental influences can be challenging, particularly when taking a life span perspective, but an understanding of how genetic variants and environments relate to successful aging is critical to public health and intervention efforts.


We review the literature, and survey promising methods, to understand this interplay. We also propose the investigation of personality as a nexus connecting genetics, environments, and health outcomes.


Personality traits may reflect psychological mechanisms by which underlying etiologic (genetic and environmental) effects predispose individuals to broad propensities to engage in (un)healthy patterns of behavior across the life span. In terms of methodology, traditional behavior genetic approaches have been used profitably to understand how genetic factors and environments relate to health and personality in somewhat separate literatures; we discuss how other behavior genetic approaches can help connect these literatures and provide new insights.


Co-twin control designs can be employed to help determine causality via a closer approximation of the idealized counterfactual design. Gene-by-environment interaction (G × E) designs can be employed to understand how individual difference characteristics, such as personality, might moderate genetic and environmental influences on successful aging outcomes. Application of such methods can clarify the interplay of genes, environments, personality, and successful aging.

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