Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Overall, as has been the case for previous media such as video games, concerns about screen time and mental health are not based in reliable data

Ferguson, C. J., Kaye, L. K., Branley-Bell, D., Markey, P., Ivory, J. D., Klisanin, D., Elson, M., Smyth, M., Hogg, J. L., McDonnell, D., Nichols, D., Siddiqui, S., Gregerson, M., & Wilson, J. (2021). Like this meta-analysis: Screen media and mental health. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, Jan 2022. https://doi.org/10.1037/pro0000426

Abstract: The question of whether screen time, particularly time spent with social media and smartphones, influences mental health outcomes remains a topic of considerable debate among policy makers, the public, and scholars. Some scholars have argued passionately that screen media may be contributing to an increase in poor psychosocial functioning and risk of suicide, particularly among teens. Other scholars contend that the evidence is not yet sufficient to support such a dramatic conclusion. The current meta-analysis included 37 effect sizes from 33 separate studies. To consider the most recent research, all studies analyzed were published between 2015 and 2019. Across studies, evidence suggests that screen media plays little role in mental health concerns. In particular, there was no evidence that screen media contribute to suicidal ideation or other mental health outcomes. This result was also true when investigating smartphones or social media specifically. Overall, as has been the case for previous media such as video games, concerns about screen time and mental health are not based in reliable data.

Check also A neural circuit for spirituality and religiosity derived from patients with brain lesions: There is a common brain circuit in a region previously implicated in fear conditioning, pain modulation, and altruistic behavior:

A neural circuit for spirituality and religiosity derived from patients with brain lesions. Michael A. Ferguson et al. Biological Psychiatry, June 29 2021. https://www.bipartisanalliance.com/2021/06/a-neural-circuit-for-spirituality-and.html

Men were far more likely to expect a negative reaction from the receiver of an unsolicited nude or sexual image, and more likely to show a flirty or positive reaction when they were the receiver

Expectations vs. reality: Expected and actual affective reactions to unsolicited sexual images. V. Karasavva, J. Swanek, A. Smodis, A. Forth. Computers in Human Behavior, January 4 2022, 107181. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2022.107181


•Most participants reported negative or ambivalent reactions to being cyberflashed.

• The majority of cyberflashers endorsed expecting a flirty reaction.

• Women were more likely expect flirty or positive and men negative reactions.

• Women were more likely typically have ambivalent/negative reactions when cyberflashed.

• Flirty and positive expectations were predictive of cyberflashing.

Abstract: Most of the research on cyberflashing (i.e., using technology to send someone a nude or sexual image without their consent) has focused on cisgender men sharing pictures of their genitals (i.e., “dick pics”). Within this, what is known about the expectations and reactions to cyberflashing is also limited. Here, we examine the cyberflashing practices, expectations, and reactions of both men and women. Participants in our study (n = 810, 41.8% cyberflashers; 68.0% had been cyberflashed) reported how they expected those receiving their unsolicited sexual images would feel and how they feel when they receive such an image. Women cyberflashers were more likely to endorse expecting a flirty or positive reaction from the receiver and were more likely to report having an ambivalent or negative reaction when cyberflashed. Conversely, men cyberflashers were more likely to expect a negative reaction from the receiver but reported having a flirty or positive reaction when cyberflashed. Finally, we found that expecting a flirty or positive reaction and not expecting a negative reaction were predictive of cyberflashing. Findings highlight the mismatch between the expectations and actual reactions of cyberflashing and underscore the importance of consent education for online sexual interactions.

Keywords: CyberflashingSextingDick picsImage-based sexual abuseTechnology-facilitated sexual violence

Graphical abstract

Echo chambers, filter bubbles? The degree of heterogeneity of one’s political news consumption, as well as voting intentions for a specific party are complex psychological constructs with many different variables, each single variable only having a small effect

The degree of heterogeneity of news consumption in Germany—Descriptive statistics and relations with individual differences in personality, ideological attitudes, and voting intentions. Cornelia Sindermann, Christopher Kannen, Christian Montag. New Media & Society, December 30, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1177/14614448211061729

Abstract: This study aimed to examine the degree of homogeneity versus heterogeneity of individuals’ political information environments across offline and online media types and relations with sociodemographic variables, personality, and political attitudes. In two online surveys, German participants (sample 1: N = 686; sample 2: N = 702) provided information on sociodemographic variables, consumption of political news, and voting intentions, and completed the Big Five Inventory and Right-Wing Authoritarianism (RWA) and Social Dominance Orientation (SDO) scales. Results revealed that absolutely homogeneous political news consumption was evident for a small proportion of individuals (2.04% and 0.43%). Openness (positively) and Agreeableness (negatively) exhibited significant associations with the degree of heterogeneity of political information environments across samples. No consistent patterns of relations with either the ideological attitudes of RWA and SDO or voting intentions were observed. The findings shed light on the existence of absolutely homogeneous political information environments and “who” might be prone to a more homogeneous versus more heterogeneous information environment.

Keywords: Echo chamber, filter bubble, homogeneous information environment, ideological attitudes, news consumption, personality, political news, voting

The current study sought to contribute empirical data to the ongoing discussions around homogeneous political information environments. Three specific aims were addressed in this study: (1) An examination of the degree of heterogeneity of information environments of individuals in relation to political news, (2) analyses of the extent to which the degree of heterogeneity of an individual’s political information environment is associated with individual differences in sociodemographics and personality, and (3) an exploration of the associations of the degree of heterogeneity of individuals’ political information environments with ideological attitudes and political voting intentions. Analyses focused on political news consumption across various offline and online media types and were implemented in two independent population-based samples to derive robust, replicable, and reliable findings.

Across the two independent samples, the media type where individuals received on average the most homogeneous and attitude-consistent political news was podcasts; see Figure 2. It should be highlighted, however, that relatively few individuals in sample 1 (8.02%; but sample 2: 37.61%) actually used podcasts to consume political news. The generally low scores for consuming counter-attitudinal news via podcasts in both samples might be due to the time which needs to be invested into listening to a podcast. Given this, individuals might need to be more selective with regard to which podcast they listen to. It is also possible that individuals tend to choose to listen to podcasts delivered by specific individuals who then advertise podcasts by other individuals with similar attitudes, further reducing the heterogeneity of news consumption of listeners. The media types where individuals on average received the most heterogeneous political news were social media (sample 1) and online news websites (sample 2); see Figure 2. Thus, these results do not support the notion that social media platforms pose the greatest risk for homogeneous information environments (see arguments highlighted in the Introduction of the present study). In addition, the results do not show that political news consumed via online media types, where algorithmic filtering is possible, are generally more homogeneous than those consumed via offline media types. Unfortunately, we cannot draw any conclusion as to why heterogeneity scores differ between media types. Heterogeneity could be due to incidental, algorithmically based, or self-initiated confrontation with counter-attitudinal news. Investigating the reasons for differences in heterogeneity scores across media types will be an important research approach for forthcoming studies. Relatedly, mechanisms to increase the heterogeneity of news consumed within and across media types will need to be investigated. Based upon these investigations, citizens should be informed about the degree of heterogeneity of news presented via different media types and ways to increase heterogeneity. Further development of add-ons (e.g. for internet browsers) informing users about their personal heterogeneity of news consumption could be the first step in this direction—an add-on is, however, always limited to the online context (see examples mentioned in Bozdag and van den Hoven (2015)).

Across all media types used, only a few individuals responded “never” to seeing news contradicting their existing opinions when consuming political news (n = 14, 2.04% in sample 1; n = 3, 0.43% in sample 2). These results indicate that few individuals are exposed to absolutely homogeneous information environments across media types. This is in line with previous research on incidental and counter-attitudinal news exposure on different media types (Newman et al., 2017Vaccari et al., 2016).

Older age and being male (versus female) were associated with greater heterogeneity of one’s political information environment across samples. These results fit with findings from previous studies (Benesch, 2012Sindermann et al., 2020) although, in one of the cited studies significant associations with education were also found, which was only observed in one of our samples (sample 1).

With respect to individual differences in personality the following results were obtained: Significant positive associations of Openness (in correlational and regression analyses) and negative associations of Agreeableness (in regression analyses) with the degree of heterogeneity of political information environments were found across samples.

We want to specifically highlight the positive associations between Openness and the degree of heterogeneity of political information environments. These positive associations are in line with our initial hypothesis and the findings of previous studies (Matz, 2021Sindermann et al., 2020). Moreover, it supports the intellectual stimulation hypothesis proposed by Kim and Kim (2018). Individuals scoring high in Openness seem to enjoy engagement in news reports dealing with a range of different political opinions. This is also in line with one study where a positive association between Openness and engagement in political discussions was reported (Mondak and Halperin, 2008); but we should also acknowledge the results of other studies that do not support this link (Gerber et al., 2012Hibbing et al., 2011). As can be seen in Supplementary Table 5, Openness might be more strongly related to the degree of heterogeneity of one’s online versus offline political information environment (see results from sample 1 reported in the Supplementary Material). A greater potential for the individual to create his or her online news environment versus the offline news environment might contribute to these differential associations (see Supplementary Material).

Contrary to our hypotheses, we did not find any significant association of ideological attitudes with the degree of heterogeneity of one’s political information environment across samples. Despite RWA and SDO having been found to positively relate to closed-mindedness (Berggren et al., 2019), they do not seem to be related to the degree of heterogeneity of one’s political information environment. Interestingly, however, additional analyses (Supplementary Material) revealed that RWA was negatively related to the heterogeneity of one’s online, but not offline, political information environment across both samples. On the one hand, it is possible that high-choice online environments in particular offer the possibility for homogeneous political news consumption for individuals high in RWA. On the other hand, more information filtering online (e.g. via algorithms) compared to offline sources might influence RWA. These results and the causal direction of associations will need to be (re-)investigated in future studies.

It is difficult to draw any firm conclusions regarding potential associations between the degree of heterogeneity of one’s political information environment and voting intentions. Lower heterogeneity was not associated with intentions of not voting, or to vote for a more extreme right-wing party, across samples. Models derived from linear discriminant analysis on associations of sociodemographic variables and the degree of heterogeneity of one’s political information environment with voting intentions revealed quite low classification accuracies. Therefore, we should not overinterpret these particular findings. Future studies might want to examine the associations between the degree of heterogeneity of political information environments and political attitudes in German samples in a slightly different way. For example, one could investigate the strength of party support, topic polarization, affective/partisan polarization via the “feeling thermometer,” or overall left–right ideological self-placement (e.g. Heatherly et al., 2017Lee et al., 2014). Based on this idea, on an exploratory basis, we calculated the correlation between a 10-point left–right ideological self-placement item and the HoHe score in sample 2 (the left–right self-placement was only assessed in sample 2). The association was nonsignificant (ρ = –.02, p = .660). However, the association between an extremity score (absolute difference between self-placement on the left-right dimension and the mean scores 5 and 6) and the HoHe score was small but significant (ρ = .08, p = .037; these analyses were not preregistered). This indicates that these associations should be investigated in more depth in further studies to understand these complex relations.

Some limitations of the present study must be acknowledged. First of all, neither of the two samples is completely representative of the general German population. Moreover, it is important that the generalizability of the findings will be tested in future studies in other countries. Nevertheless, we are confident that the results that were replicated across the two samples of the present study will also be found in other samples. Next, it should be emphasized that data collection for both surveys was conducted in times of an exceptional crisis, namely, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, many news stories across different platforms are likely to have included information about the virus and legal/policy regulations to combat it (e.g. lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, etc.; GöfaK Medienforschung, 2020, as cited in Statista, 2021tagesschau.de, 2020). The focus on these topics across news platforms might adversely affect the generalizability of findings and might explain findings that were inconsistent with our hypotheses. For instance, according to a recent survey, voters of the AfD were mostly against the measures to fight the COVID-19 pandemic (Forschungsgruppe Wahlen, 2020), which might (in part) explain high HoHe scores in this group. The present study should therefore be replicated when topics related to the pandemic are not dominating the news. Another limitation is that the present surveys were cross-sectional. Any conclusions about causality are limited, accordingly. One might, however, cautiously infer causal influences on the degree of heterogeneity of one’s political information environment specifically for associations with sociodemographic variables and personality traits, which are generally seen as relatively stable (Costa and McCrae, 1992aEdmonds et al., 2008Roberts and Mroczek, 2008). Another limitation is the application of self-report measures. Assessment of personality, ideological attitudes, and voting intentions via self-reports might be influenced by response biases or lack of ability for introspection (McDonald, 2008). Also, the statements on how many news sources one consumed within the past six months prior to participation, and on how often one was confronted with counter-attitudinal news, might be (un-)consciously biased. Nevertheless, the application of self-report measures allowed us to assess the degree of heterogeneity across various offline and online media types, which is very difficult to assess via objective methods. The HoHe score and its constituent items might be improved in future work, for example, by adding variables on the frequency of use, or the time spent on each media type. Another potential limitation is that across all results effect sizes were mostly small to medium, according to Cohen’s (1992) rules of thumb. This indicates that the degree of heterogeneity of one’s political news consumption, as well as voting intentions for a specific party, are complex psychological constructs and many different variables and their interactions contribute to explaining variance in them, with each single variable only having a small effect (Götz et al., 2021).

This report introduces the Global Collectivism Index (GCI) – a measure covering 99.9% of the earth's population; collectivism is very high in Sub-Saharan Africa, very low in Western Europe, and intermediate in most other regions

A Truly Global, non-WEIRD Examination of Collectivism: The Global Collectivism Index. Brett Pelham et al. Current Research in Ecological and Social Psychology, December 29 2021, 100030. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cresp.2021.100030

Highlights of Global Collectivism Index Report

• Despite recent growth in research on collectivism, there are no truly global measures of collectivism

• Our measure (the GCI) updates past measures and covers 99.9% of earth's population

• Our measure eliminates the strong WEIRD biases of past research

• Our measure is mostly behavioral and relies on representative national sampling

• Our measure compares favorably with existing measures

• Our measure is associated with important outcomes (e.g., suicide rates, human rights)

• This association is statistically independent of both national wealth (GDP) and modernity

• Our measure uncovers two important drivers of cultural evolution: farming and pathogen load

Abstract: This report introduces the Global Collectivism Index (GCI) – a measure covering 99.9% of the earth's population. The GCI includes six sub-scores (e.g., household living arrangements, ingroup favoritism). Collectivism is very high in Sub-Saharan Africa, very low in Western Europe, and intermediate in most other regions. Even after controlling for both national wealth and technological sophistication, national collectivism scores predict variables such as suicide rates, alcohol consumption, agricultural employment, and valuing child obedience. Further, this was true after directly pitting the GCI against several competing predictors of the major cultural outcomes examined in this report – from national wealth (GDP) and modernization to a seven-factor conceptualization of interdependence. The GCI is a much-needed, well-validated, historically updated measure that eliminates previous WEIRD biases and offers greatly increased statistical power in cross-cultural research.

A Final Look at Japan's Low Collectivism Scores

Many readers have been puzzled by our finding that Japan received a very low collectivism score. In fact, Japan's collectivism score on the GCI is identical to that of the United States. We are not the first to document low levels of collectivism in Asia. Oyserman et al. (2002) found that Japanese, South Korean, and U.S. citizens had similar collectivism scores. Such findings need not invalidate the bulk of the empirical observations that have been made in past comparisons of Japan (or South Korea) and the United States. But they do suggest that collectivism is an unlikely explanation for some of the recent cross-cultural differences observed between Japan and the United States. They also suggest that some of the past cross-cultural differences observed between these two nations might no longer appear in modern samples of young adults.

The assumption that Japan is a collectivistic nation is so widely accepted that many readers may question the validity of the GCI. But readers who reject our measure because of Japan's cross-national rankings would have to reject previously developed measures of collectivism as well. On Hofstede et al.’s (2010) popular measure of individualism, 39 out of 70 nations were more collectivistic (less individualistic) than Japan in 1970. On the GLOBE measure, Japan ranks 44th out of 55 nations in collectivism. Minkov's (2017) modern update on Hofstede's individualism measure places Japan one notch higher than the United States in global individualism. The WEIRD analyses presented here virtually guarantee that if existing measures of collectivism had included many more nations, Japan would have scored very low in collectivism. This is exactly what the GCI reveals. Further, as shown in Study 4, the fact that Japan has become much more individualistic in the past few decades is theoretically predictable, from drivers of cultural change.

Some avid believers in Japan's collectivism have argued that the GCI must be missing subscales that capture crucial aspects of collectivism. Such critics have yet to name any indicators that would radically change Japan's global rankings. For example, if one were to treat attitudes about child obedience as a subscale in our collectivism Index (rather than an outcome), this would lower Japan's collectivism score. There does appear to be one very good candidate for distinguishing Japan and other east Asian nations from the United States and Western Europe – in ways that are pretty consistent with much prior research on culture. This is Minkov et al.’s (2017) concept of flexibility-monumentalism. This cultural dimension has to do – at least in part – with the degree to which people behave very differently from one situation to another. It appears to overlap greatly with what Vignoles and colleagues call self-consistency (see Vignoles et al., 2016; especially Table 8). In fact, in Minkov's (2017) study of 56 nations, Japan had the world's highest score on this monumentalism-flexibility dimension (scoring strongly in the flexible direction). Minkov and colleagues specifically argue, however, that this dimension is largely independent of the dimension of individualism versus collectivism.

Brewer and Chen (2007) might argue that the present measure of collectivism – like other past measures of collectivism, allocentrism, and interdependence – conflates relational and group processes. These reflect two distinct forms of collectivism (Gabriel & Gardner, 1999). As applied to identity, relational identities refer to motives and self-evaluations that are grounded in close relationships and personal roles (e.g., aunt, grandfather). In contrast, group identities connect people to larger but less intimate social factions (e.g., one's fellow Moroccans, Cubs fan). Gabriel and Gardner (1999) found, for example, that men tend to privilege collective identities whereas women tend to privilege relational identities. From this viewpoint, the GCI seems to emphasize relational identities. This is especially true for total fertility, family living arrangements, and marriage to divorce ratios. But it is presumably much less true for religiosity – which connects people to large, extra-family groups. As operationalized in the GCI, ingroup bias is a roughly 2:1 blend of relational to collective concerns because Van de Vliert's measure includes familism and nepotism (which are heavily relational) and nationalism (which is about an extremely large group). Motor vehicle ownership rates may have more to do with truly individualistic motivations. Such motivations can be at odds with both relational and group motivations – and may differ less across modern cultures than do relational or collective motivations (Kreuzbauer, Chiu, & Lin, 2009).

General Discussion

In this report, we introduce the GCI – a theoretically-derived, empirically-validated national-level measure of collectivism. This single-factor measure has several desirable features. First, rather than relying on self-reported attitudes, the GCI consists mainly of behavioral measures, many of which can be assessed objectively. Second, unlike previous national-level measures of collectivism, the GCI covers virtually the entire planet. Moreover, most of the more than 100 nations that are covered by the GCI and not covered by existing measure are understudied, non-WEIRD cultures. The GCI also appears to be less strongly confounded with GDP and with modernity than are existing measures. Finally, taking nothing away from Minkov's (2017) update, the GCI represents a much-needed global update on levels of collectivism across the globe.

The GCI also has the advantage of being conceptually similar to Vandello and Cohen's (1999) measure of regional variation in collectivism across the 50 U.S. states. With this in mind, national scores on the GCI are reliably associated with national scores on both the likely origins and the likely consequences of collectivism. The GCI almost always predicted cross-national variation in social, political, and health outcomes even after we controlled for both GDP and “modernity” (technological and economic innovation).

Future studies should carefully address the likely origins and consequences of collectivism. The GCI will make that job much easier than it has been in the past. For example, one could use the GCI and Hofstede's original, 50-year-old, collectivism scores to model changes in collectivism over time. Doing so might help resolve the current debate about whether national wealth or pathogen loads better predict cultural evolution in the direction of individualism. Of course, this model would be limited to only about 55 nations, but we can think of no reason why such an analysis would not be at least as informative as the current studies that focus on many fewer nations (sometimes a single nation). We hope that even critics of this particular idea will agree that, at a bare minimum, the present data on the GCI show that the often-cited findings of Vandello and Cohen (1999) replicate very well at the global level.

Another way to appreciate the utility of the GCI is to see what would have happened if we had tested the hypotheses examined here using only the existing measures of collectivism. In such cases, we would have often observed incorrect or ambiguous findings. In a series of supplemental analyses, we assessed whether any of the existing measures of collectivism predicted how strongly parents valued obedience. All of these measures were correlated in the expected direction with this measure. However, only two of the four zero-order correlations were significant at p < .05 (those for the GLOBE and for Suh's measure). Further, after we statistically controlled for GDP, none of the measures was uniquely associated at p < .05 with valuing child obedience. Further, in four of the five cases, there was a significant unique effect for GDP. The main reason for this problem is clear. There was a median of 34 cases per regression analysis. This, combined with the limited statistical range for GDP and collectivism in heavily WEIRD nations, made it hard to separate collectivism and GDP. A nearly global pool of nations offers researchers much-needed statistical power when it comes to separating GDP and collectivism.

Extraversion was positively associated with subsequent sickness absence when controlling for several covariates, including health, work factors and previous spells of sickness absence; neuroticism also showed positive associations with sick leave

Big five personality traits and physician-certified sickness absence. Gøril Kvamme Løset, Tilmann von Soest. European Journal of Personality, January 3, 2022. https://doi.org/10.1177/08902070211065236

Abstract: Although several studies show that personality traits are associated with absenteeism, few large-scale studies have examined these relationships prospectively, integrating survey data and register data on sickness absence. This study examines whether personality is associated with sickness absence, and whether health factors, gender, age, type of occupation and job satisfaction moderate this relationship. We combine survey data assessing the Big Five personality traits from a large sample of Norwegian employees aged 18–62 years (N = 5017) with register data on physician-certified sickness absence up to four years after. Negative binomial regression analyses showed that extraversion was positively associated with subsequent sickness absence when controlling for several covariates, including health, work factors and previous spells of sickness absence. Neuroticism also showed significant positive associations with sick leave; however, the association diminished when accounting for previous spells of sickness absence. Moderator analyses demonstrated that age and type of occupation affected some of the associations between personality and sickness absence. The findings indicate that – in addition to general health promotion measures – specific interventions targeting individuals high in extraversion may be beneficial in reducing sick leave. How socio-demographic and work-related factors moderate the relationship between personality and sickness absence may be an interesting future research area.

Keywords: sickness absence, sick leave, personality, health, occupation

The main purpose of this study was to examine whether personality is associated with physician-certified sickness absence. Overall, the results suggested that after controlling for a variety of relevant covariates and excluding respondents with prior spells of sick leave, high levels of extraversion were prospectively related to an increased risk of sick leave. Furthermore, neuroticism was positively associated with sick leave even with control for covariates; however, the association diminished when excluding participants with prior spells of sick leave. Two interaction effects showed further the complex relationships between personality, age and work factors, and sick leave.

The prospective associations between personality traits and sickness absence

Neuroticism was related to an increased risk of future sick leave, also when health, family and work factors were included in the analyses. These findings are in line with studies that found cross-sectional (Störmer & Fahr, 2013Vlasveld et al., 2013) and longitudinal (Blekesaune, 2012Raynik et al., 2020) associations between neuroticism and sick leave with control for health factors. However, new in our study is the finding that the prospective association between neuroticism and sickness absence diminished into insignificance when removing respondents that had sick leave in the interview year. This result may thus suggest that the neuroticism-sickness absence association does not necessarily originate in causal mechanisms where neuroticism influences sickness absence, but that associations may be explained by confounding or reverse causal directionality. Such a notion is in accordance with research showing that major negative life events, for example, the onset of chronic disease, and associated mental distress and deterioration in life quality predict lasting increases in neuroticism (Jeronimus et al., 2014Jokela et al., 2014).

The positive relationship between extraversion and sick leave corresponds with previous studies on extraversion and absenteeism (Furnham & Bramwell, 2006Judge et al., 1997), but conflicts with the results of Vlasveld et al. (2013), who found a negative effect of extraversion on both shorter and longer sick leave spells (>2 weeks). This latter study explains its findings in terms of extraverts possibly being less likely to deal with, for example, work stressors by means of avoidance coping through sick leave. In contrast, the positive associations between extraversion and absenteeism in other studies were suggested to originate from extraverts’ tendency to prioritise leisure and social obligations outside the work sphere, especially when work tasks are mundane (Furnham & Bramwell, 2006Judge et al., 1997). This explanation, though, seems less intuitive for predicting longer term physician-certified sick leave. Possibly, the tendency of extraverts to take risks and seek excitement may increase the risk of long-term sick leave, as extraverts are more prone to substance use and accidents (Booth-Kewley et al., 1994Terracciano et al., 2008). Alternatively, in line with the concept of presenteeism, individuals low in extraversion may be less likely to seek sick leave even when being ill. More specifically, by having a tendency to be reserved and inhibited, these people may prefer to continue with their normal work activity in order not to attract attention and have to disclose themselves to the doctor and colleagues. Also, people with low levels of extraversion may refrain from going to the doctor and approaching colleagues and superiors for sick leave because of lower levels of self-worth and social skills compared to extraverted people (Ozer & Benet-Martínez, 2006Robins et al., 2001). The present study did not provide data that allowed to test for these potential mechanisms of the association between extraversion and risk of sick leave. Future longitudinal studies with a more comprehensive assessment of extraversion, including facets such as excitement seeking and assertiveness, may provide the opportunity to test such mechanisms by disentangling the effect of specific facets of extraversion on sick leave.

The lack of any main effect of conscientiousness in our study was surprising, given earlier findings that conscientiousness is negatively related to work absence and the well-documented health- and task-directed nature of conscientious individuals. Nevertheless, the other previous study on personality and register-based sickness absence also did not find an effect of conscientiousness (Blekesaune, 2012); neither did a study based on longitudinal survey data (Raynik et al., 2020). This could indicate that the potentially buffering effect of conscientiousness on work absence primarily appears for absenteeism and more short-term sick leave. In fact, conscientiousness has been positively linked to emotional exhaustion (Armon et al., 2012). Thus, although conscientious individuals are committed and motivated in their work, which would generally yield negative associations to work absence, these characteristics might entail aspects that over time could predispose them for longer absences due to burnout as well (Armon et al., 2012Woods et al., 2013).

Less surprising, however, was the non-significant main effect of openness on sickness absence, as it is in accordance with most previous studies and thereby supports the notion that this personality dimension does not appear to be an overall decisive predictor for work absence. Still, a moderator effect of openness with age on sickness absence was found, indicating that openness increased the risk of sick leave for older employees compared to younger employees. Possibly, for younger employees, openness may promote adaptation to shifting work demands and integration in new workplaces which are of importance early in an occupational career. In contrast, high levels of openness may impede job performances and increase risk of sick leaves among older employees when extensive experience makes work less challenging and more monotonous.

For agreeableness, the lack of a main effect did not support our hypothesis of a negative association with sick leave. Yet, the moderator analyses suggested that agreeableness might have some bearing on sick leave in more intricate manners. The identified moderator effect of agreeableness with type of occupation lends some support to our assumption that personality may have differential associations with sickness absence when contrasting occupations that are not physically demanding with manual occupations. Perhaps, highly agreeable persons may be less willing to be absent from work in manual occupations because they perceive the additional burden on colleagues due to their own absence to be greater in physically strenuous occupations compared to non-manual occupations. This seemingly complex association between personality, type of occupation and sick leave, may be an interesting area for future research.

Strengths and limitations

The present study is the first to examine in a nationally representative sample the longitudinal relationship between personality and physician-certified longer term sick leave using register data on sickness absence. The use of a large, representative survey sample combined with highly reliable register-based data on sickness absence is a major strength. Using register data on sickness absence is advised because self-reported sick leave is prone to recall bias and social desirability (Thorsen et al., 2018). Moreover, several previous studies relied on cross-sectional survey data, thereby providing limited information about the temporal relationship between personality and sick leave, which further clouds causal inference.

However, the study also has limitations. First, the available register data on sickness absence only provided information about spells of sick leave that lasted more than 16 days. Shorter periods of sick leave, including both self- and physician-certified spells were not assessed, and the present study provides no information about how such spells are related to personality. Furthermore, data on sickness absence only provided information about the accumulated number of weeks of sickness absence within a calendar year for each of the four years (2008–2011). It was thus not possible to differentiate between several shorter term spells of sickness absence and one long-term spell within the year.

We used a short version of a widely applied personality measure. Yet, with four items measuring each trait, the breadth of coverage of this measure is limited, and thus this may also have limited its potential in predicting the outcome. With a more comprehensive instrument, we would be able to capture more nuances and assess narrow personality facets, which may provide more detailed information, in addition to broad traits in predicting sickness absence (Judge et al., 1997Lounsbury et al., 2004). Personality facets or items tend to outperform the broader personality traits in predicting a wide range of behavioural outcomes (Paunonen & Ashton, 2001Seebooth & Mõttus, 2018). However, studies show that the Big Five seems sufficient for predicting work-related behaviour (Judge et al., 1997Woods et al., 2013). Still, discrepancies in findings between studies may be the result of different representations of items of personality traits used. Also, a more comprehensive measure of personality would provide more information about different mechanisms that can operate at lower trait levels and disentangle whether facet or item level associations with sickness absence go in different directions.

We chose a rather conservative level of significance with p < .01; however, we acknowledge that interaction effects would be considered not significant with a more strict correction for multiple comparisons when conducting moderation analyses. The two identified interaction effects should therefore be considered preliminary.

Finally, the generalisability of the study results may also be limited in other ways. Although the study sample was stratified to be nationally representative, the respondents were overall higher educated and healthier than the general population (Slagsvold et al., 2012), which could lead to somewhat biased study results. Nevertheless, the use of survey weights did not significantly change the results compared with unweighted analyses, thus indicating that such biases in the sample do not appear to be a major concern. The findings may further not be generalisable to other countries that have less generous sickness benefit schemes, a less inclusive working life, higher unemployment, or other labour market conditions that are different from the Norwegian context and that may affect the sickness absence rate.