Food allergy experiences linked to personality traits, study suggests

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02 Mar 2018 --- A new study has observed a link between certain personality traits and the way that the daily challenges that accompany food allergies are experienced by individuals. The personality trait most in conflict with the challenges is “higher openness to experience”. It is hoped that this research may help people who experience allergies – as well as parents and support groups - understand and manage them.

Lead author Dr. Tamlin Conner says “This paper addresses this question by investigating whether individual differences in the big five personality traits (neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness) are related to food allergy-related problems in everyday life.”

Researchers stated their surprise at the results, as it directly contradicted their hypothesis. It had been predicted that “neurotic” personality types would experience the most stress from their food allergy, when in fact the opposite was found. Neuroticism did not lead to more frequent allergy issues, but higher openness did.

“It appears the demands of coping with a food allergy – requiring caution, routine and consumption of known foods – might be in direct conflict with the open personality that craves exploration,  variety and novel experiences,” Dr. Conner says.

“Higher openness was the biggest predictor of more issues, which included going hungry because there is no safe food available, problems finding suitable foods when grocery shopping, anxiety at social occasions involving food, being excluded, and feeling embarrassed and poorly understood about their food allergy.” 

Food allergies affect between one percent and ten percent of the US population, and they can create stressful daily situations. This study could have useful implications for those affected, such as detailing the real-life stress they can experience. Furthermore, it may aid the development of coping mechanisms. Dr. Connor goes on to detail some of the potential tools, specific to personality types.

“For example, ‘open’ people could try to channel their desire for variety in other directions instead of food, like music or film. They could also have ‘back-up food’ available in case they wanted to do something spontaneous. Our findings might also help parents understand how their child with a food allergy may be being impacted. For example, open children might be more likely to want to try new foods, which could put them at risk. Knowing their child’s personality, a parent could look to mitigate those impacts to reduce their frequency.

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