Conscientiousness predicts better psychological resources as well as lower cardiovascular mortality and lower metabolic syndrome (MetS) risk. However, the benefits of conscientiousness might be amplified, disabled, or reversed in disadvantaged groups. This study is the first to test these competing hypotheses for prospective associations between adolescent conscientiousness and adult psychological resources and MetS.
Participants were 220 men (54.6% black) from the Pittsburgh Youth Study. Adolescent conscientiousness (M [SD] age = 16 ) was rated by participants and their parents. Adult (M [SD] age = 32 ) socioeconomic status (SES; occupation and education), psychological resources (composite of positive affect, purpose in life, optimism, self-mastery, and self-esteem), and MetS scores (glucose, lipids, waist circumference, and blood pressure) were measured. Hierarchical regressions were used to evaluate the association of conscientiousness with adult psychological resources and MetS scores, with testing of moderation by race and SES.
Self- and parent-reported conscientiousness were associated with better psychological resources (βs = 0.23–0.29, ps ≤ .015), with no moderation by race or socioeconomic status. In the full sample, a three-way interaction of self-reported conscientiousness, race, and SES was obtained for MetS (β = 0.12, p = .093). Subgroup analysis indicated that self-reported conscientiousness was related to higher MetS scores in low SES black men (βint = −0.22, p = .022), but there was no comparable linear (βs ≤ 0.08, ps ≥ .50) or interaction (βs ≤ −0.13 ps ≥ .25) pattern in white men.
Adolescent conscientiousness was beneficial for adult psychological resources, regardless of race or SES. However, there may be physiological costs of conscientiousness for black men from disadvantaged backgrounds.
From the Department of Psychiatry (Duggan), University of Pittsburgh; Departments of Psychiatry and Psychology, University of Pittsburgh (Jennings); and Departments of Psychiatry, Epidemiology, Psychology, and Clinical and Translational Science (Matthews), University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Address correspondence to Katherine A. Duggan, PhD, Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, 3811 O'Hara St, Pittsburgh, PA 15213. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
Received for publication April 27, 2018; revision received December 20, 2018.