Worried you’re forgetful? People who are anxious are among those most likely to have a poor memory, research suggests
- Research shows that anxious worriers can be the most forgetful people
- Those who are more open do better in memory tests says Imperial College study
- Neuroticism ‘associated with more psychological distress’ said Dr Weixi Kang
It can be a real bind worrying about whether you’ve remembered to turn off the gas at home or if you’ve forgotten someone’s special birthday.
But by fretting about such matters you could be making things worse, a study suggests.
Researchers have found that certain personality traits can affect how good our memories are – with those who are anxious among the most forgetful.
A survey tested how well people recalled life events. This was then compared with the results of personality tests.
It was discovered that across all age groups, people who scored highly for openness performed better in memory tests, while those who displayed neurotic tendencies – worry, moodiness and feeling negative – were worst.
Researchers have found that certain personality traits can affect how good our memories are – with those who are anxious among the most forgetful (picture posed by model)
Dr Weixi Kang, who led the study at Imperial College London (pictured), said: ‘Neuroticism is typically associated with more psychological distress, which may then affect the neural systems that support episodic memory’
Dr Weixi Kang, who led the study at Imperial College London, said: ‘Neuroticism is typically associated with more psychological distress, which may then affect the neural systems that support episodic memory.’
The findings were published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.
Dr Kang analysed people’s ‘episodic memory’, which is our ability to remember events in our lives, both in the distant past and those that happened just now, using a word recall task.
He then analysed the data alongside the results of their personality tests, which covered the ‘Big Five’ traits of agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism, and openness.
Across all age groups, the people who scored highly for openness – e.g. those who like variety over the routine, are more curious, adventurous and in touch with their inner feelings – performed better on the memory tests.
It’s thought that taking part in brain-stimulating cultural and physical activities in turn benefits memory over time.
Openness also appears to be associated with lower inflammation in the body, including the brain, which can help memory too, said Dr Kang.
Across the young age group – those aged 16 to 35 – and the middle-aged (35-55) – the more extraverted a person, the more likely they were to have a better memory, the study found.
It was discovered that across all age groups, people who scored highly for openness performed better in memory tests, while those who displayed neurotic tendencies – worry, moodiness and feeling negative – were worst (picture posed by model)
Frequent social interactions may be one of the ways in which being an extrovert can help memory, Dr Kang said.
But as we age, people – even extroverts – tend to focus on ‘current and emotionally important relations rather than making more friends’ so the memory-boosting effect of new interactions slips away.
Neuroticism – i.e. a tendency to worry, feel negative emotions such as jealousy or frustration, and be moody – was associated with a poorer memory in the middle-aged and older group.
The trait is linked to a range of negative factors including stress sensitivity and sleeping difficulties which may in turn affect our recollections, and which older people may be more susceptible to, suggested Dr Kang.
Surprisingly, agreeableness was also negatively related to memory performance, for the older and middle-aged group, although the reason for this remains unclear, said Dr Kang.