In a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, researchers from Singapore measured impatience in more than 1,100 male and female undergraduate students by giving them the option of receiving $100 immediately or waiting 30 days for a higher reward. They then looked at the participants’ white blood cells and measured the length of the telomeres — the ends of a chromosome that shorten with age. They found shorter telomeres were significantly associated with impatient young women, and concluded those women would age faster.
There’s evidence that telomere length is a biomarker of aging, but it’s not exclusively the only one. “It’s just one part of a much bigger picture. Aging is a far more complex process,” says Robert Cumming, an associate professor of biology at Western University.
The study was also restricted to undergraduate students, who tend to be pretty young. “If they were going to make an assumption on a 20-year-old female college student and say that behaviour is predictive of whether they’re aging faster or slower, they should have broadened the sample set to include other age groups because they would have a different maturity,” says Cumming. “If they looked at the behaviour in older, more mature individuals and saw the same correlation, it would help bolster their claims. They’re making some pretty big conclusions from this study and perhaps overextending the conclusions.”
Saying that a behaviour associated with impatience can shorten lifespan is stretching it, says Cumming, especially since the study found only a correlation and not causation.