Body mass predicts personality development across 18 years in middle to older adulthood

Kadri Arumäe*, René Mõttus, Uku Vainik

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Various personality traits have longitudinal relations with body mass index (BMI), a measure of body weight and a risk factor for numerous health concerns. We tested these associations' compatibility with causality in either direction. Method: Using three waves of the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (N = 12,235, Mage = 53.33 at baseline), we tested how accurately the Five-Factor Model personality domains and their items could collectively predict BMI and change in it with elastic net models. With multilevel models, we tested (a) bidirectional and (b) within-person associations between BMI and personality traits. Results: The five domains were able to predict concurrent (r = 0.08), but not future BMI. Twenty-nine personality items predicted concurrent and future BMI at r = 0.21 and r = 0.16 to 0.25, respectively. Neither the domains nor items could collectively predict change in BMI. Similarly, no individual trait predicted change in BMI, but BMI predicted changes in Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, and several items (|b*| = 0.03 to 0.08). BMI had within-person correlations with these same traits; time-invariant third factors like genetics or childhood environments therefore could not (fully) account for their relations. Conclusions: Body weight may contribute to adults' personality development, but the reverse appears less likely.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Personality
Early online date8 Feb 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 8 Feb 2023


  • body mass index
  • health
  • item-level analyses
  • multilevel modeling
  • personality development


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