New research suggests that personality traits play an important in healthy eating habits in early adulthood.
The research, published in Frontiers in Psychology, was based on the widely recognized “Big Five” personality traits: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.
The study of 1,073 young adults at the University of Otago in New Zealand found that the personality traits openness and extraversion were the most consistent personality predictors of greater fruit and vegetable consumption. In other words, those who scored higher on measures of openness and extraversion tended to eat more fruits and vegetables. Conscientiousness was also a weak predictor of fruit and vegetable consumption.
PsyPost interviewed the study’s corresponding author, Tamlin S. Conner of the University of Otago. Read her responses below:
PsyPost: Why were you interested in this topic?
Conner: I became interested in nutritional psychology several years ago when I ran a study of the daily health habits of young adults. Among the interesting patterns, I discovered a pretty strong connection between intake of plant foods and feelings of happiness and vitality. This led to a line of research that established the psychological benefits of eating more fruit and vegetables. Yet, even with all these wonderful benefits, so many of the young adults I surveyed were not even close to the recommendation of “5+ a day” fruit and vegetable target. Several people ate less than 1 serving of FV across the entire two weeks we surveyed them. This led me to start researching the factors that predict higher plant food consumption in young adults. There was quite a bit of research on how demographic factors like gender, body mass index, and socio-economic status predicted higher plant food consumption. But this research didn’t address what I thought would be an equally important predictor of food choices – personality.
So, I gathered data from my two largest daily diary studies of young adults and analyzed the relationship between the big-five personality traits and fruit and vegetable consumption. I found that the most consistent predictor of higher fruit and vegetable consumption was the personality trait of “openness to experience”. These are people characterized by greater intellectual curiosity and interest in variety. The second most consistent predictor was higher extraversion. These are people who laugh easily and are energized in groups of people. The third predictor was higher conscientiousness. These are the reliable people who follow through on their commitments.
What should the average person take away from your study?
Higher openness to experience was the single best personality predictor of higher plant food consumption in young adults. If you want to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, try to cultivate the qualities associated with openness: Be more curious and adventurous about plant foods, explore new and unusual items, learn how to prepare delicious fruit and vegetables, and broaden your palate beyond the white potato.
Are there any major caveats? What questions still need to be addressed?
I would love to track these individuals over time to determine whether these personality differences translate into better health outcomes later in life. Other research has found that people higher in openness have better cardiovascular health in later life. I predict that the higher fruit and vegetable consumption among more open people might account for some of those health advantages.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
If people would like to read the full paper, it is open access!
The study, “The Role of Personality Traits in Young Adult Fruit and Vegetable Consumption“, was also co-authored by Laura M. Thompson, Rachel L. Knight, Jayde A. M. Flett, Aimee C. Richardson and Kate L. Brookie.