Jaconelli, A., Stephan, Y., Canada, B., & Chapman, B.P. (2013). Personality and physical functioning among older adults: The moderating role of education. The Journals of Gerontology, Series B:
Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 68(4), 553–557, doi:10.1093/geronb/gbs094. Advance Access publication October 15, 2012
Received July 30, 2012; Accepted September 18, 2012
Decision Editor: Bob Knight, PhD
© The Author 2012. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Gerontological Society of America.
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Personality and Physical Functioning Among Older
Adults: The Moderating Role of Education
Alban Jaconelli,1 Yannick Stephan,2 Brice Canada,1 and Benjamin P. Chapman3
1Department of Sport Sciences, EA 3742 University of Grenoble, France.
2Department of Sport Sciences, Psychology and Medicine, EA 4556 EPSYLON University of Montpellier and St-Etienne, France.
3Department of Psychiatry, University of Rochester Medical Center, New York.
Objectives. Drawing upon a vulnerability model, this study tested whether low educational level would amplify the
negative contribution of risky personality traits, such as high neuroticism and low conscientiousness, on older adults
Method. Five hundred and thirteen French-speaking community-dwelling older adults aged 60–91 years (mean
age = 66.37, SD = 5.32) completed measures of physical functioning, education, personality traits, chronic conditions,
and demographic variables.
Results. Results revealed that extraversion and conscientiousness were positively associated with physical function-
ing, whereas neuroticism was a negative predictor, beyond demographics, chronic conditions, and education. The nega-
tive relationship between neuroticism and physical functioning was stronger among individuals with low educational
level and was nonsignificant among older people with higher level of education.
Discussion. This study is the first to support a vulnerability model, which entails an amplification of neuroticism risk
at low education, but a diminishment of neuroticism risk for activity limitations at high education. As a whole, it appears
that a focus on either personality or education without taking into account each other provides only a partial account of
the predictors of basic daily physical activities in old age.
Key Words: Aging—Education—Personality—Physical functioning.
mobility-related activities of daily life—is a crucial compo-
nent of older individuals’ quality of life, the identification
of its predictors deserves particular attention. Beyond the
deleterious effect of chronic conditions and disease, atten-
tion have been directed toward socioeconomic status (SES),
indexed by level of educational attainment, with studies hav-
ing found that a high level of education is related to better
physical function, whereas controlling for objective health
conditions (Sulander et al., 2006). Better health decision
making, greater access to material and medical resources,
as well as regular involvement in health preventive behav-
ior, and less frequent risky behavior explain in part these
educational differences (Chapman, Fiscella, Duberstein, &
However, considering education without sufficient atten-
tion to personality traits paints an incomplete picture of the
correlates of older adults’ physical functioning. Among the
traits defined by the Five-Factor Model (Digman, 1990),
high neuroticism and low conscientiousness are risk fac-
tors for activity limitations in old age (Duberstein et al.,
2003; Suchy, Williams, Kraybill, Franchow, & Butner,
2010), which may be explained by their consistent relation-
ships with health-damaging behaviors (Rhodes & Smith,
ivEN that maintenance of physical functioning—
such as walking, standing, climbing stairs, and other
2006; Terracciano, Löckenhoff, Zonderman, Ferrucci, &
Costa, 2008). Conversely, higher extraversion and consci-
entiousness predict better physical function among older
adults (Chapman, Duberstein, & Lyness, 2007; Duberstein
et al., 2003), possibly through health-promoting behavior
(Rhodes & Smith, 2006). Although less consistent, there is
also evidence that openness to experience is related to lower
likelihood of physical limitations in old age (Duberstein
et al., 2003), and there is a trend toward a positive relation-
ship between agreeableness and independent activities of
daily living (Suchy et al., 2010).
To date, the extent to which both individuals’
personality traits and educational attainment may work
in conjunction to predict older adults’ basic daily physical
activities has been somewhat underdeveloped. The potential
interaction between personality traits and education for
the prediction of physical functioning among older adults
is suggested by the vulnerability model (Chapman et al.,
2009; Chapman, Roberts, & Duberstein, 2011; Kivimaki
et al., 2003). According to this model, socioeconomic
disadvantage engenders more health problems among
individuals with vulnerable personality configurations. For
example, in a nationally representative sample, Chapman
et al. (2009) found that low education amplifies the risk of
smoking associated with low conscientiousness. Therefore,
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