Researchers have broken new ground in the area of food
allergies, with a study showing that personality traits impact people living
with a food allergy published in the international open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology.

The interdisciplinary team of researchers from the
University of Otago’s Department of Psychology (Dr Tamlin Conner) and the
Department of Food Science (Dr Rana Peniamina, Dr Miranda Mirosa, and Professor
Phil Bremer) wanted to investigate the challenges that adults with food
allergies face managing their condition in daily life, and whether certain
personality traits made these challenges even greater.

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

For two weeks, 108 adult participants with a
physician-diagnosed food allergy completed a daily online survey that queried
the occurrence of 25 food allergy issues each day and their stress and mood. Dr
Conner says the findings went against the research team’s hypothesis.

“We were surprised that neuroticism did not lead to
more frequent allergy issues or poorer mood on days with more allergy issues.
Instead, higher openness to experience 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.”

“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 adds.

She hopes the findings will help people understand how their
personality affects the way they cope and manage their food allergy.

“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.”

Reference: Tamlin
S, et al. The Role of Personality in Daily Food Allergy Experiences. Frontiers
in Psychology, 2018; 9. Published 6 February 2018.