The new report, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, analyzed the eating habits of more than 1,000 young adults ages 17 to 25. Researchers gave participants a test to measure for the “Big Five” personality traits: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Then they assigned some participants to keep a food diary for 21 days and others for 13 days, in hopes of encouraging more people to complete the task.
Participants who scored higher than average for openness (the preference for new experiences and variety) ate about 4.5 more servings of combined fruit and veggies per week than their less open peers. They also consumed less unhealthy food, such as potato chips or fries.
Extroversion also had a positive effect on fruit and veggie consumption, though not as strongly as openness did, while conscientiousness was a weak predictor of produce consumption.
Of course, the study only found an association between the characteristic and eating habits, rather than a direct causation, meaning there’s just a general relationship between the two factors. But it still provides some insight into how behavior can affect choices.
It’s likely that people who are open to new experiences and crave variety extend those same attitudes toward food, study author Tamlin Conner, a professor at the University of Otago in New Zealand, told The Huffington Post. Their personality may make them more eager to try new fruits and veggies, or brave enough to keep experimenting with ones they don’t initially like.
But it’s also possible that eating healthy foods can cause anyone to feel more like an extrovert: Another of Conner’s studies found that in the short term, eating more fruits and veggies resulted in more feelings of vitality and motivation, which she says are key features of extroversion.
So, you want to eat better? Start eating like an open, extroverted person.
“Try to cultivate an attitude of openness, especially toward unusual healthy foods,” Conner said. “Go to the store, peruse the produce aisle and pick something new. Practice behaving like an open person.”
Practicing behaviors repeatedly has been shown to slightly change your personality over time. So, eating adventurously may eventually turn you into a more adventure-loving person overall.
And if a more open personality doesn’t convince you to browse the produce aisle, the health benefits might. Fruits from oranges to papayas contain vitamins that help ward off diseases like cancer. Veggies high in carotenoids, like broccoli, can also boost the immune system.
Cheers to a more adventurous palette and personality.