Human Limits

Exploring performance and health with Michael J. Joyner, M.D.

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Creativity and Longevity?

The recent deaths of the legendary jazz musician Dave Brubeck just short of his 92nd birthday, and the great Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer at 104 got me thinking about the relationship between creativity and longevity.   These men were among the most creative people of the last 100 years and they remained productive and engaged into old age.   Was there a connection?

In a U.S. Veterans administration study on personality traits, aging and mortality in 1349 men, a 1 standard deviation increase in markers of creativity was associated with a 12% reduction in mortality risk.   The figure below is from a study on personality traits and all-cause mortality in the Edinburgh Artery Study which included 1035 subjects in their 60s or older who took a personality survey in the middle 1990s.  It shows that the subjects who scored highest on markers of openness to new experiences, which is one element of creativity, had much higher survival rates than people who scored lower.



 The authors of conclude:

“During follow-up, 242 (37.1%) men and 165 (24.6%) women died. For the whole sample, there was a 28% lower rate of all-cause mortality for each 1 standard deviation increase in openness and an 18% lower rate of all-cause mortality for each 1 standard deviation increase in conscientiousness. In men, the risk of all-cause mortality was 0.63 for a 1 standard deviation increase in openness and 0.75 for a 1 standard deviation increase in conscientiousness. In women, none of the personality domains were significantly associated with all-cause mortality. Well fitting structural equation models in men (n = 652) showed that the relationships between conscientiousness and openness and all-cause mortality were not substantially explained by smoking, or other variables in the models.”


These observations are certainly consistent with life stories of Brubeck and Niemeyer.   It is also interesting to note that the protective effects of openness and creativity seem to be more pronounced in men.  They also seem to interact with conscientiousness which can be seen as an ability to take good care of yourself by paying attention to your health.  As more research on personality and healthy aging emerges it will be interesting to see if these divergent results for men and women are confirmed.   It will also be interesting to learn if we can train people to be more open and creative to promote healthy aging.   Last week I reviewed the data on what happens when elite endurance athletes remain highly active into their 80s, and in earlier posts I have reviewed the positive effects of physical activity and exercise on longevity.   Maybe fitness and exercise interact with openness and creativity because older fit people are able to try new things and live in what might described as a bigger and more stimulating world.

Enjoy the classic video clip below from the 1960s showing the Brubeck and band playing his signature composition “Take Five”.   Brubeck is on piano and Paul Desmond is playing the sax.


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One Response to “Creativity and Longevity?”

  1. December 10th, 2012 at 10:12 am

    Robert Deaner says:

    This is an interesting finding.
    But did you know that several recent psychology articles have linked creativity to dishonesty? No, I’m not creative enough to make that up. 🙂
    Here’s a link to one of the papers:

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