Study finds childhood lead exposure may lead to personality problems in adulthood

A study released in PNAS uncovered evidence in a sample including American and European residents on how lead exposure during childhood may negatively affect personality later in life.

“In a preregistered investigation, we tested this hypothesis by linking historic atmospheric lead data from 269 US counties and 37 European nations to personality questionnaire data from over 1.5 million people who grew up in these areas,” the PNAS report reads.

During their study, researchers at the University of Texas adjusted for age and socioeconomic status, utilizing a natural experiment to test if lead exposure resulted in personality differences.

“Participants born after atmospheric lead levels began to decline in their county had more mature, psychologically healthy adult personalities (higher agreeableness and conscientiousness and lower neuroticism), but these findings were not discriminable from pure cohort effects,” the report also states.

“Finally, we replicated associations in Europeans. European participants who spent their childhood in areas with more atmospheric lead were less agreeable and more neurotic in adulthood.”

“Our findings suggest that further reduction of lead exposure is a critical public health issue.”

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