Neuroticism (N) is one of the broad dimensions or traits of human personality. Individuals with high levels of N are emotionally sensitive and more likely to experience psychological distress and negative emotions, such as sadness, worry, or fear. They find it difficult to cope with stress and to control their emotions. In contrast, individuals who score low on N are characterized by low levels of emotional arousal. They are described as emotionally stable. Even when faced with stressful situations, they remain calm and relaxed and report low levels of negative emotions.
The concept of N emerged from the lexical tradition of personality research that used statistical techniques to identify the basic underlying dimensions of personality descriptions found in everyday language. Although most researchers agree that N is one of the core personality dimensions, there are some differences in its conceptualization across theoretical frameworks.
The five-factor model of personality considers N (together with Extraversion, Openness to Experience, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness) as one of the “Big Five” dimensions of normal personality. According to Robert McCrae and Paul Costa (2003), N is composed of six facets: Anxiety, Angry Hostility, Depression, Self-Consciousness, Impulsiveness, and Vulnerability. Hans Eysenck and Sybil B. G. Eysenck (1976) identified N, together with Extraversion and Psychoticism, as one of three major dimensions of personality.
N is typically measured by asking individuals to indicate their agreement with a list of self-descriptive statements. Observer ratings obtained from peers, relatives, or medical professionals may be used as well. Two commonly used questionnaires are the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire—Revised (EPQ-R; Eysenck, Eysenck, and Barrett 1985) and the Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO PI-R; Costa and McCrae 1992). The EPQ-R consists of 100 items and provides separate scales for N, Psychoticism, and Extraversion. The NEO PI-R consists of 240 items that measure each of the 5 personality domains. Scores for the six facets that define each domain are provided as well.
N is a genetically influenced (Bouchard and Loehlin 2001; Pilia et al. 2006), stable characteristic that manifests itself consistently across age groups, gender, and cultural contexts. An adult’s level of N remains fairly constant across time, but there are gradual declines in N across the adult life span (Roberts, Walton, and Viechtbauer 2006). N and its facets can be sharply increased by adverse life conditions and medical disorders, though it is quite responsive to various treatment strategies as well.
Although N acquired its name through its close association with the traditional diagnosis of neurosis, N is a dimension of normal personality. Even extremely high scores on the N scale do not necessarily indicate the presence of psychopathology, and even people with low levels of N may have psychiatric disorders. That being said, high scores on N are nevertheless related to a range of problems in living. Especially in combination with low extraversion, high N is associated with lower life satisfaction and greater risk for clinical depression and other psychiatric disorders. People high in N are also prone to use maladaptive strategies (e.g., self-blame) when coping with stressors. In combination with low conscientiousness, N is also a risk factor for smoking and abuse of alcohol and drugs.
SEE ALSO Anxiety; Depression, Psychological; Personality; Psychopathology; Self-Consciousness, Private vs. Public
Bouchard, Thomas J., Jr., and John C. Loehlin. 2001. Genes, Evolution, and Personality. Behavior Genetics 31 (3): 243–273.
Costa, Paul T., Jr., and Robert R. McCrae. 1992. Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO PI-R) and the NEO Five-Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI) Professional Manual. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.
Eysenck, Hans J., and Sybil B. G. Eysenck. 1976. Psychoticism as a Dimension of Personality. London: Hodder and Stoughton.
Eysenck, Hans J., Sybil B. G. Eysenck, and Paul Barrett. 1985. A Revised Version of the Psychoticism Scale. Personality and Individual Differences 6 (1): 21–29.
McCrae, Robert R., and Paul T. Costa Jr. 2003. Personality in Adulthood: A Five-Factor Theory Perspective. 2nd ed. New York: Guilford.
Pilia, Giuseppe, Weimin M. Chen, Angelo Scuteri, et al. 2006. Heritability of Cardiovascular and Personality Traits in 6,148 Sardinians. PLoS Genetics 2 (8): 1207–1223.
Roberts, Brent W., Kate Walton, and Wolfgang Viechtbauer. 2006. Patterns of Mean-Level Change in Personality Traits across the Life Course: A Meta-Analysis of Longitudinal Studies. Psychological Bulletin 132 (1): 1–25.
Corinna E. Löckenhoff
Paul T. Costa Jr.