People high in neuroticism are more likely to experience negative thoughts, research finds.
In addition, being introverted is linked to spontaneously remembering more negative life events.
Together, both personality traits — neuroticism and introversion — are linked to depression and anxiety.
On the other hand, people with stable emotions who are more extraverted are at lower risk of depression and anxiety.
Neuroticism and introversion are two of the ‘big 5’ personality traits, that also include agreeableness, conscientiousness and openness to experience.
The study included 71 people who were given personality tests and asked to recall some personal memories.
Dr Florin Dolcos, study co-author, explained:
“We’re looking at traits that are associated with the way that people process the emotional world and the way that they respond to it.
We wanted to look not only at how personality traits might influence what and how people remember, but also to examine how that impacts their (subsequent) emotional state.”
The results showed that both men and women who were more introverted tended to recall more negative memories.
Neurotic women had a tendency to repeatedly return to the same memories, the study revealed.
Psychologists call this rumination.
Dr Dolcos explained:
“Depressed people recollect those negative memories and as a result they feel sad.
And as a result of feeling sad, the tendency is to have more negative memories recollected.
It’s a kind of a vicious circle.”
Neurotic men, though, recalled a higher proportion of negative memories.
Getting rid of negative thoughts
To get rid of negative thoughts, people use a variety of strategies.
For women, trying to suppress negative thoughts did not work, as they returned stronger than before.
(See: the problem with thought suppression.)
Men who made an effort to think differently about their memories — what psychologists call ‘reappraisal’ — recalled more positive memories.
Suppression was not linked to any differences for men.
One of the best ways of getting rid of negative thoughts is using flexible emotional control strategies.
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
The study was published in the journal Emotion (Denkova et al., 2012).