Negative emotionality is the strongest risk factor for depression among personality traits, research finds.
Negative emotionality is essentially being highly neurotic and involves finding it hard to deal with stress and experiencing a lot of negative emotions and mood swings.
People who are neurotic are more likely to experience negative emotions like fear, jealousy, guilt, worry and envy.
Some neurotic people can be quite shy and self-conscious.
The good news is that a depressive personality can be changed, contrary to what many people think.
The study’s authors write:
“…personality is at least somewhat malleable, especially in youth, but may forecast the onset of depression years in advance, which makes traits a potentially attractive means of identifying individuals at risk and informing selection of interventions.”
In addition, other aspects of personality can protect against the disadvantages of negative emotionality.
Being high in conscientiousness and an extravert together has a protective effect on people who are highly neurotic.
The conclusion comes from two studies — one looked at around 21,000 Swedish twins who completed personality tests.
They were followed up over 25 years later and asked about any experience of depression.
The results revealed that negative emotionality was key and that genetic factors were important in the development of depression.
Professor Kenneth S. Kendler, who led the study, said:
“The personality trait of neuroticism – perhaps better understood as “negative emotionality” is a strong risk factor of major depression.
Our study shows that this occurs largely because levels of neuroticism are an index of the genetic liability to depression.”
The second study reviewed many other studies on the link between personality and depression.
It also found that neuroticism or negative emotionality is strongly linked to depression.
The authors conclude that:
“Current evidence suggests that depression is linked to traits such as neuroticism/negative emotionality, extraversion/positive emotionality, and conscientiousness.
Moreover, personality characteristics appear to contribute to the onset and course of depression through a variety of pathways.”
Although links are sometimes found between depression and being introverted, as well as being low on conscientiousness, it is neuroticism that has the greatest link to depression.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do