Young people who are high on the personality trait of neuroticism are more likely to develop both anxiety and depression disorders, researchers including one of Indian-origin have found.
Researchers from Northwestern University and University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in US studied personality traits of 547 participants recruited as high school juniors at two high schools.
They found that of the five major dimensions of personality, neuroticism - a trait characterised by anxiety, fear, moodiness, worry, envy, frustration, jealousy, and loneliness - is the trait most relevant for developing nearly all forms of psychopathology.
The other four personality traits are extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness and openness.
“Neuroticism was an especially strong predictor of the particularly pernicious state of developing both anxiety and depressive disorders,” said Richard Zinbarg from Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern.
Earlier research has shown that neuroticism is associated with substance abuse, mood and anxiety disorders but had not tested whether these associations are comparable in strength.
High schools students could be given a questionnaire on neuroticism - either via paper and pencil or administered online - that determines their standing on that personality trait, Zinbarg said.
“It should be possible to reduce simultaneously, through a single intervention, the risk for anxiety as well as for depression and help people cope much better,” he said.
The results also shed light on a theoretical controversy about neuroticism and its definition, according to researchers including Deepika Anand from Northwestern University.
“Some, including me, believe that neuroticism is somewhat specific,” said Zinbarg.
“The theorists in this camp believe that neuroticism makes people more susceptible to the negative emotions - anxiety, depression, irritability, anger,” he said.
Others believe that neuroticism heightens susceptibility to emotions in general, including those that are positive. In that view, neuroticism would be as much a predictor of disorders of excess, like gambling or substance use, as of disorders that involve inhibition and pain, researchers said.
They found that neuroticism was not as strong a predictor of substance use disorders as for anxiety disorders and depression. The findings will be published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.