Intelligence, Personality and Health (PSYL10101)

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Intelligence, Personality and Health (PSYL10101)

Aims and objectives:

  • to describe and evaluate research on the role that intelligence and personality traits may play in determining health across life.
  • to review research in the new field of cognitive epidemiology that shows that higher intelligence in youth is associated with a lower risk of premature death.
  • to consider evidence on various pathways through which higher intelligence might be linked to lower mortality, namely via socioeconomic advantage, improved disease or injury prevention, better disease or injury management, better mental health or ‘body system integrity’.
  • to evaluate research on the links between major personality traits and specific health outcomes and consider by what means personality might influence health.

Learning methods and resources

Each session will include a lecture but time will also be set aside for group discussion of issues raised in the lecture and course reading.  You may be asked to give a short presentation on a research paper during the session and will be expected to prepare one or two questions in response to other students’ presentations. A list of recommended reading for each lecture is given below.  

Tuesdays 11:10 - 13:00
Semester 1, Block 1
7 George Square, Room S.1
Introduction to cognitive epidemiology. Intelligence as a predictor of death
This session will introduce students to the field of cognitive epidemiology and to some basic concepts and methods of epidemiological research. We will consider the evidence that lower intelligence is a risk factor for earlier death and examine potential explanations for this link.
7 George Square, Room S.1
17/09/2018 - 2:10pm to 4:00pm
Intelligence and physical health
In this session we will consider whether intelligence is linked with specific somatic health outcomes and look at the evidence that intelligence might be a risk factor for unintentional injury. We will discuss potential mechanisms that might help to explain these associations.
7 George Square, Room S.1
24/09/2018 - 2:10pm to 4:00pm
Intelligence and mental health
In this session we will examine the evidence on the relationship between intelligence and various manifestations of mental distress, including diagnosed mental disorders, symptoms of anxiety and depression, attempted suicide, and somatization.
7 George Square, Room S.1
01/10/2018 - 2:10pm to 4:00pm
Personality, disease and mortality
In these sessions we will examine research on whether personality traits are linked to risk of death and other health outcomes (physical and mental) and explore the mechanisms that might underlie any associations.
7 George Square, Room S.1
08/10/2018 - 2:10pm to 4:00pm
Personality, disease and mortality
In these sessions we will examine research on whether personality traits are linked to risk of death and other health outcomes (physical and mental) and explore the mechanisms that might underlie any associations.
7 George Square, Room S.1
15/10/2018 - 2:10pm to 4:00pm
Learning Outcomes: 

By the end of the course students should be able to:

  • demonstrate understanding of some basic epidemiological concepts, such as causation and confounding.
  • describe and appraise evidence linking intelligence and risk of specific health outcomes.
  • describe and appraise evidence linking major personality traits and risk of specific health outcomes.
  • evaluate some hypothesised mechanisms underlying these findings, drawing on relevant evidence.


Please note the reading list is currently under revision, below you will find sample/partial references.

Week 1: Introduction to cognitive epidemiology. Intelligence as a predictor of death


*give priority to these references

Gottfredson L. (2004) Intelligence: is it the epidemiologists' elusive "fundamental cause" of social class inequalities in health? J Pers Soc Psychol 86:174-99.

*Batty GD, Wennerstad KM et al. (2009) IQ in early adulthood and mortality by middle age: cohort study of 1 million Swedish men.  Epidemiology 20:100-109.

*Calvin CM, Deary IJ, Fenton C, Roberts B, Der G, Leckenby N, Batty GD. (2011) Intelligence in youth and all-cause mortality: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Int J Epidemiol 40:626-644.

Martin LT, Kubzansky LD. (2005) Childhood cognitive performance and risk of mortality: a prospective cohort study of gifted individuals. Am J Epidemiol 162:887-90.

Murray C, Pattie C, Starr J, Deary IJ. (2012) Does cognitive ability predict mortality in the ninth decade? Intelligence 40:490-98.

*Batty GD, Der G, MacIntyre S, Deary IJ.(2006) Does IQ explain socioeconomic inequalities in health? Evidence from a population based cohort study in the west of Scotland. BMJ.332:580-4.

Week 2: Intelligence and physical health


*give priority to these references

*Lawlor DA, Batty GD, Clark H, McIntyre S, Leon DA. (2008) Association of childhood intelligence with risk of coronary heart disease and stroke: findings from the Aberdeen Children of the 1950s cohort study. Eur J Epidemiol 23:695-706

Batty GD, Modig Wennerstad K, Davey Smith G, Gunnell D, Deary IJ, Tynelius P, Rasmussen F. IQ in early adulthood and later cancer risk (2007) Ann Oncol 18:21-8.

*Batty GD, Gale CR, Tynelius P, Deary IJ, Rasmussen F. (2009) IQ in early adulthood, socioeconomic position, and unintentional injury mortality by middle age: a cohort study of more than 1 million Swedish men. Am J Epidemiol 169:606-15.

*Wraw C, Deary IJ, Gale CR, Der G. (2015) Intelligence in youth and health at age 50. Intelligence, 53, 23-32

Batty GD, Deary IJ, Schoon I, Gale CR. (2007) Childhood mental ability in relation to food intake and physical activity in adulthood: the 1970 British Cohort Study. Pediatrics. 119:38-45.

Batty GD, Deary IJ, Schoon I, Gale CR. (2007) Mental ability across childhood in relation to risk factors for premature mortality in adult life: the 1970 British Cohort Study. J Epidemiol Community Health. 61:997-1003.

* Lundin A, Sörberg Wallin A, Falkstedt D, Allebeck P, Hemmingsson T. (2015) Intelligence and Disability Pension in Swedish Men and Women Followed from Childhood to Late Middle Age. 10:e0128834.

Week 3: Intelligence and mental health


*give priority to these references

Gale CR, Batty GD, Tynelius P, Deary IJ, Rasmussen F (2010) Intelligence in early adulthood and subsequent hospitalization for mental disorders. Epidemiology 21:70-77.

*Koenen KC, Moffitt TE, Roberts AL, Martin LT, Kubzansky L, Harrington H, Poulton R, Caspi A. (2009) Childhood IQ and adult mental disorders: a test of the cognitive reserve hypothesis. Am J Psychiatry 166:50-57

*Gale CR, Hatch SL, Batty GD, Deary IJ. (2009) Intelligence in childhood and risk of psychological distress in adulthood: The 1958 National Child Development Survey and the 1970 British Cohort Study Intelligence 37:592–599

Dickson H, Laurens KR, Cullen AE, Hodgins S.(2012) Meta-analyses of cognitive and motor function in youth aged 16 years and younger who subsequently develop schizophrenia. Psychol Med. 42:743-55

*Sörberg A, Allebeck P, Melin B, Gunnell D, Hemmingsson T (2013). Cognitive ability in early adulthood is associated with later suicide and suicide attempt: the role of risk factors over the life course. Psychol Med.43:49-60.

*Smith D, Anderson J, Zammit S, Meyer T, Pell J, Mackay D (2015). Childhood IQ and risk of bipolar disorder in adulthood. Br J Psychiatry Open 1 (1) 74-80; DOI: 10.1192/bjpo.bp.115.000455.

*Schaefer JD, Caspi A, Belsky DW, Harrington H, Houts R, Israel S, Levine ME, Sugden K, Williams B, Poulton R, Moffitt TE. Early-life intelligence predicts midlife biological age. (2015) J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. May 26. pii: gbv035. [Epub ahead of print]

Hagenaars S et al. Shared genetic aetiology between cognitive functions and physical and mental health in UK Biobank (N=112 151) and 24 GWAS consortia (2016) Mol Psychiatry. 2016 Jan 26. doi: 10.1038/mp.2015.225. [Epub ahead of print]

Weeks 4 & 5: Personality, disease and mortality


*give priority to these references

*Matthews G, Deary IJ, Whiteman MC (2009). Traits and health in: Personality traits.3rd edition.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp301-322.

*Lahey BB (2009) Public health significance of neuroticism. American Psychologist 64:241-256.

*Bogg T, Roberts BW (2013) The case for conscientiousness: evidence and implications for a personality trait marker of health and longevity. Ann Behav Med 45;278-88.

Weiss A, Gale CR, Batty GD, Deary IJ. (2009) Emotionally stable, intelligent men live longer: the Vietnam Experience Study. Psychosomatic Medicine 71, 385-394.

Chapman BP, Fiscella K, Kawachi I, Duberstein PR. (2010). Personality, socioeconomic status, and all-cause mortality in the United States. Am J Epidemiol, 171:83-92.

*Deary IJ, Weiss A, Batty GD. (2010) Intelligence and personality as predictors of illness and death; how researchers in differential psychology and chronic disease epidemiology are collaborating to understand and address health inequalities. Psychological Science in the Public Interest 11:53-79.   (This paper is relevant for weeks 1-3 as well).

Friedman HS (2000) Long-term relations of personality and health: dynamisms, mechanisms, tropisms. J Pers 68:1089-1107

Martin LR, Friedman HS, Schwartz JE (2007) Personality and mortality risk across the life span: the importance of conscientiousness as a biopsychosocial attribute. Health Psychol 26:428-36.

*Hampson SE, Goldberg LR, Vogt TM, Dubanoski JP. (2007) Mechanisms by which childhood personality traits influence adult health status: Educational attainment and healthy behaviours Health Psychol 26: 121-125

*Mottus R, McNeill G, Jia X, Craig LCA, Starr JM, Deary IJ. (2013) The Associations Between Personality, Diet and Body Mass Index in Older People. Health Psychol 32:353-60

*Weiss A, Sutin AR, Duberstein PR, Friedman B, Bagby RM, Costa PT Jr. (2009) The personality domains and styles of the five-factor model are related to incident depression in Medicare recipients aged 65 to 100. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry.17:591-601.

*Hakulinen, C, Elovainio M, Pulkki-Raback L, Virtanen M, Kivimaki M, Jokela M.  (2015) Personality and depressive symptoms: individual participant meta-analysis of 10 cohort studies. Depression & Anxiety 32:461–470.

Watson D, Hubbard B. (1996) Adaptational Style and Dispositional Structure: Coping in the Context of the Five-Factor Model.  J Personality;64:737-74

Weston S, Jackson J. (2015) Identification of the healthy neurotic: personality traits predict smoking after disease onset.  J Res Personality 54:61-9.


Additional Information: 



100% essay (maximum length 3000 words). A choice of essay topics will be provided.

An electronic copy must be submitted through an own work declaration confirmation form and Turnitin link in Learn by the deadline. The electronic submission allows us to check for plagiarism and word count.

The submission deadline must be observed. Failure to comply with the deadline without good reason will incur mark penalties as follows:

  • Up to 7 calender days, 5 marks per calender day will be deducted
  • More than 7 calender days late a mark of zero will be given