13 Feb 2018

Food allergies and personalities

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 1:33 pm on 13 February 2018
Dr Tamlin Conner

Dr Tamlin Conner Photo: supplied

Personality traits associated with food allergies have been under the spotlight in research by Otago University.

A combined team from the university's psychology and food science departments investigated the challenges faced by allergy sufferers and whether particular personality types made those challenges even greater.

Lead author of the study, Dr Tamlin Conner of the university's psychology department, says between 1 to 10 percent of the population in New Zealand have some type of physician-diagnosed food allergy.

“Sometimes it’s hard to cope with these in daily life and so and I’m interested in how some people more than others might find coping with a food allergy more challenging."

Their research showed no relationship between personality and the types of food allergy people have, but that people with certain personality traits had more of a problem coping with their food allergy than others.

She had expected people higher in neuroticism to have the most problems.

“This is the Woody Allen trait, they’re more anxious, more sensitive to threat. We thought they would have a very hard time managing their food allergy because they have problems coping with other types of health conditions.”

But that wasn't the case at all.

“Instead, what we found was that people higher in openness to experience had the most problems coping with their food allergies.”

In other words people who like variety and change.

"They are typically unconventional, they prefer new experiences, they prefer variety, whereas people low in openness to experience prefer safe environments they prefer routine.”

People with openness to new experiences are often interesting and intelligent but their novelty-seeking is a disadvantage if they have a food allergy.

"The demands of coping with a food allergy: known food, sticking to a routine, caution; these are in direct conflict with someone with higher openness to experience who craves exploration, variety and novel experiences.”

You can also learn more about your own personality through an online test here.

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