Although scientifically unverifiable, young love is the inspiration for a great deal of literature and certainly most rock songs. But according to a new study conducted by a pair of psychologists at the German Universities of Jena and Kassel, falling in love before age 30 is also good for one's personal development -- at least among people who score high for neuroticism.
"Neurotic people are rather anxious, insecure, and easily annoyed. They have a tendency towards depression, often show low self-esteem and tend to be generally dissatisfied with their lives," said the study's lead author and a researcher at Jena, Dr. Christine Finn in a statement. "However, we were able to show that they become more stable in a love relationship, and that their personality stabilizes."
As part of Finn's research, which was published in the latest issue of the Journal of Personality, she and accompanying scientists tracked 245 couples, of which both members were between 18 and 30-years-old, for nine months, interviewing them four times, at three-month intervals. Each participant was surveyed and scored based on his or her level of neuroticism -- one of the "Big 5" personality traits that many psychologists view as the foundational characteristics of personality -- and was also interviewed about the progress of and satisfaction level within the relationship. Because, as Finn pointed out, neurotic people are more likely to react to negative situations and to view a neutral situation as negative, each participant was also asked to evaluate theoretical everyday scenarios.
The researchers found that people who scored high for neuroticism -- a personality trait that would typically lead to a more pessimistic and negative view of life -- were actually able to approach (at least theoretical) situations with more optimism and positivity as the relationship progressed. What's more, there was often a "partner effect," in which this influence compounded between partners. The shift was observed in both men and women.
Researchers will have to further investigate to see if this trend continues over time or leads to an overall reduction in neurotic tendencies (as opposed to just one characteristic of the personality trait: interpretation bias).
"Of course everyone reacts differently and a long, happy relationship has a stronger effect than a short one," said Dr. Franz J. Neyer, co-author and chair of Differential Psychology of the Jena University. "But generally we can say: young adults entering a relationship can only win!"