Background and aims Previously low risk-taking was reported in very preterm (VP: gestational age at-birth <32 weeks) and/or very low birth-weight (VLBW: birth-weight <1500 grams; subsequently VP/VLBW) samples. Unknown is whether there are other specific personality characteristics associated with VP/VLBW adults. The aim of this study was to examine autistic features, personality characteristics and risk-taking attitudes of VP/VLBW in comparison to full-term controls at 26 years of age.
Methods The Bavarian Longitudinal Study is a geographically defined prospective whole population sample of neonatal at-risk children born in Germany. The sample comprised of 200 VP/VLBW adults and 197 controls. The test battery included the Broad Autism Phenotype Questionnaire (autistic features), the Big-5 Inventory (personality), and the Arnett Inventory of Sensation Seeking (risk-taking).
Results Compared to the control sample, VP/VLBW adults scored significantly higher in autism, introversion and neuroticism but not in conscientiousness and openness scales. They also reported decreased risk-taking. Profile analysis showed introversion, decreased risk-taking, autism and neuroticism as unique features of VP/VLBW compared to controls (Fwithin-group = 0.70, ns; Fbetween-group = 49.56, p < 0.001). These characteristics also loaded into a single profile factor (χ2 = 7.99, df = 4, ns; CFI = 0.984). VP/VLBW birth significantly predicted the profile factor (β = 0.33, p < 0.001) and explained 11% of its variance.
Conclusions VP/VLBW birth poses an important risk for a global withdrawn personality, as indicated by being less socially engaged (introversion), low in taking risks, poor in communication (autistic features) and easily worried (neuroticism). This profile might help to explain the social difficulties VP/VLBW individuals experience in adult roles, such as in peer/partner relationships and career.