Learn more about Neuroticism
Neuroticism is a fundamental personality trait in the study of psychology. It can be defined as 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 depression (Matthews & Deary, 1998). 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 related to emotional intelligence, which involves emotional regulation, motivation, and interpersonal skills (Goleman, 1997). It is also considered to be a predisposition for traditional neuroses, such as phobias and other anxiety disorders.
Neuroticism is typically viewed as a continuous trait, rather than 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 relatively large 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.
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."
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 research suggests that people who are high on neuroticism have a more reactive sympathetic nervous system, and are more sensitive to environmental stimulation. (Eysenck & Eysenck, 1985). Behavioral genetics researchers have found that a substantial portion of the variability on measures of neuroticism can be attributed to genetic factors.
- Eysenck, H. J. & Eysenck, M. W. (1985). Personality and individual differences: A natural science approach. New York, NY: Plenum Press.
- Goleman, D. (1997). Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam.
- Matthews, G. & Deary, I. J. (1998). Personality traits. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.