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March 26, 2016
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1 Introduction



Neuroticism is a fundamental personality trait in the study of psychology. It is an enduring tendency to experience negative emotional states. Individuals who score high on neuroticism are more likely than the average to experience such feelings as anxiety, anger, guilt, and depressed mood . They respond more poorly to environmental stress , and are more likely to interpret ordinary situations as threatening, and minor frustrations as hopelessly difficult. They are often self-conscious and shy, and they may have trouble controlling urges and delaying gratification. Neuroticism is associated with low emotional intelligence, which involves emotional regulation, motivation, and interpersonal skills. It is also a risk factor for " internalizing " mental disorders such as phobia, depression, panic disorder, and other anxiety disorders (traditionally called neuroses).

On the opposite end of the spectrum, individuals who score low in neuroticism are more emotionally stable and less reactive to stress. They tend to be calm, even tempered, and less likely to feel tense or rattled. Although they are low in negative emotion, they are not necessarily high on positive emotion. That is an element of the independent trait of extraversion. Neurotic extraverts, for example, would experience high levels of both positive and negative emotional states, a kind of "emotional roller coaster". Individuals who score low on neuroticism (particularly those who are also high on extraversion) generally report more happiness and satisfaction with their lives.

Like other personality traits, neuroticism is typically viewed as a continuous dimension, rather than as a distinct type of person. People vary in their level of neuroticism, with a small minority of individuals scoring extremely high or extremely low on the dimension. Because most people cluster around the average, neuroticism test scores approximate a normal distribution, given a large enough sample of people. Neuroticism is one of the most studied personality traits in psychology, and this has resulted in a wealth of data and statistical analysis. It is measured on the EPQ , the NEO PI-R, and other personality inventories.

Neuroticism has also been studied from the perspective of Gray's biopsychological theory of personality, using a scale that measures personality along two dimensions: the Behavioural Inhibition System (BIS) and the Behavioural Activation System (BAS). The BIS is thought to be related to sensitivity to punishment as well as avoidance motivation, while the BAS is thought to be related to sensitivity to reward as well as approach motivation. Neuroticism has been found to be positively correlated with the BIS scale, and negatively correlated with the BAS scale.

Neuroticism appears to be related to physiological differences in the brain. Hans Eysenck theorized that neuroticism is a function of activity in the limbic system, and his research suggests that people who score highly on measures of neuroticism have a more reactive sympathetic nervous system, and are more sensitive to environmental stimulation.

Behavioral genetics researchers have found that a significant portion of the variability on measures of neuroticism can be attributed to genetic factors.

A study with positron emission tomography has found that healthy subjects that score high on the NEO PI-R neuroticism dimension tend to have high altanserin binding in the frontolimbic region of the brain — an indication that these subjects tend to have more of the 5-HT2A receptor in that location.

Another study has found that healthy subjects with a high neuroticism score tend to have higher DASB binding in the thalamus, — with DASB being a ligand that binds to the serotonin transporter protein.

Another neuroimaging study using magnetic resonance imaging to measure brain volume found that the brain volume was negatively correlated to NEO PI-R neuroticism when correcting for possible effects of intracranial volume, sex, and age.

Other studies have associated neuroticism with genetic variations, e.g., with 5-HTTLPR — a polymorphism in the serotonin transporter gene.

However, not all studies find such an association.

A genome-wide association study (GWA study) has associated single-nucleotide polymorphisms in the MDGA2 gene with neuroticism, however the effect sizes were small.

Another GWA study gave some evidence that the rs362584 polymorphism in the SNAP25 gene was associated with neuroticism.

A 2009 study has found that higher neuroticism is associated with higher decreased brain size with increasing age.

Studies have found that the mean reaction times (RTs) will not differ between individuals high in neuroticism and those low in neuroticism, but that there is considerably more trial-to-trial variability in performance reflected in RT standard deviations. In other words, on some trials neurotic individuals are faster than average, and on others they are slower than average. It has been suggested that this variability reflects noise in the individual's information processing systems or instability of basic cognitive operations (such as regulation processes), and further that this noise originates from two sources: mental preoccupations and reactivity processes.

Flehmig et. al (2007) studied mental noise in terms of everyday behaviours using the Cognitive Failures Questionnaire which is a self-report measure of the frequency of slips and lapses of attention. A slip is an error by commission, and a lapse is an error by omission. This scale was correlated with two well-known measures of neuroticism (the BIS/BAS scale and the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire). Results indicated that the CFQ-UA subscale was most strongly correlated with neuroticism (r = .40) and explained the most variance (16%) compared to overall CFQ scores which only explained 7%. The authors interpret these findings as suggesting that mental noise is "highly specific in nature" as it is related most strongly to attention slips triggered endogenously by associative memory. In other words, this may suggest that mental noise is mostly task-irrelevant cognitions such as worries and preoccupations.

Neuroticism, along with other personality traits , has been mapped across states in the USA.

People in eastern states such as New York, New Jersey, West Virginia, and Mississippi tend to score high on neuroticism, whereas people in many western states, such as Utah, Colorado, South Dakota, Oregon, and Arizona score lower on average.

People in states that are higher in neuroticism also tend to have higher rates of heart disease and lower life expectancy.

  • Big Five personality traits

  • Personality

  • Trait theory

  • Psychoticism

  • Highly sensitive person

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "neuroticism".

Last Modified:   2010-11-25

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