Neuroticism

& Relevant Book Recommendations
April 29, 2021
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Neuroticism - The Big Five Personality Traits, abstract painting of a woman with her face covered in paint

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Emotional stability or neuroticism is one of the five personality traits of the Big Five personality theory.

Neuroticism describes the overall emotional stability of an individual through how they perceive the world. It takes into account how likely a person is to interpret events as threatening or difficult.

It also includes one’s propensity to experience negative emotions.

Neuroticism versus Emotional stability

Neuroticism is characterized by frequent mood changes, a tendency to worry about things, easiness of getting irritated and disturbed, and recurrent sadness. A high neuroticism person tends to experience negative emotions easily, are vulnerable, and easily discouraged or irritated when facing obstacles or drawbacks.

Neuroticism is similar but not identical to being neurotic in the Freudian sense (read Neuroses and neuroticism: What’s the difference?). Some psychologists prefer to call neuroticism by the term emotional stability to differentiate it from the term neurotic in a career test.

Emotional stability refers to a person’s ability to remain stable and balanced. Emotional stability is associated with emotional maturity. People who score high in emotional stability (low in neuroticism) on a career test react less emotionally and are less easily upset. These persons are calm, have confidence and deal well with stress. They tend to be emotionally stable, calm, and do not constantly experience negative feelings. The fact that these individuals are free from experiencing negative feelings does not mean that they experience many positive feelings. The latter is a characteristic of the extraversion trait.

Common Neuroticism Traits

Each of the Big Five personality traits is made up of six facets or sub traits. These can be assessed independently of the trait that they belong to in a personality test.

The sub traits of the neuroticism domain are:

Anxiety
Vulnerability
Irritability
Depression
Self-consciousness
Immoderation

High neuroticism characteristics

  • Experiences a lot of stress
  • Worries about many different things
  • Gets upset easily
  • Experiences dramatic shifts in mood
  • Feels anxious
  • Struggles to bounce back after stressful events

Low neuroticism characteristics

  • Emotionally stable
  • Deals well with stress
  • Rarely feels sad or depressed
  • Doesn’t worry much
  • Is very relaxed
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Causes of Neuroticism

The exact reason why people tend to be more extroverted or more introverted has been the subject of considerable debate and research in psychology. As with many such debates, the question tends to boil down to two key contributors: nature or nurture.

Studies about the neuroticism trait as discussed in the Eynseck personality model (read Hans Eysenck’s interface between the brain and personality: Modern evidence on the cognitive neuroscience of personality) demonstrated that there is a robust relationship between neuroticism and the functioning of several emotion processing networks in the brain, particularly during exposure to negative stimuli. The brain regions showing this association include a number of cortical regions implicated in emotion regulation, depression and anxiety, in addition to many sub-cortical/limbic regions.

 

Personality traits are heritable, and genetic variation in the production and uptake of neuromodulators such as dopamine may play some role. Dopamine activity has been experimentally linked to differences in personality traits through various methods. Yet, the relationships between genes regulating dopamine activity and global personality phenotypes have been less than consistent. This may be because a large vector of environmental factors (e.g., parental support, negative life events, resource availability) also affect the development of personality traits, resulting in different phenotypes despite similar genotypes depending on the environmental circumstances. This is commonly termed phenotypic plasticity. Taken one step further, this implies that different genotypes may respond differently to environmental factors, resulting in a pattern of genotype by environmental interactions. Studies have shown that in demanding climates, dopamine genes are linked to Extraversion and Neuroticism traits manifestation.

People who experience trauma, stress, and adversity are also more likely to develop neurotic personality traits and behaviors, particularly when these events happen early on in life. People who experienced abuse, neglect, or who had parents who were either too involved or not involved enough are believed to be more likely to develop neurotic personalities.

There are studies that investigated the relationship between attachment styles (read John Bowlby’s Theory of Attachment) and personality traits. The findings of one such study indicated that neuroticism was highly significantly and positively related to anxious attachment, absorption, alienation, worry, and reassurance-seeking (read Exploring the Role of Neuroticism and Insecure Attachment in Health Anxiety, Safety-Seeking Behavior Engagement, and Medical Services Utilization: A Study Based on an Extended Interpersonal Model of Health Anxiety).

Neuroticism and other Big Five Traits

Careers and Neuroticism trait

A person who has a high level of emotional stability is preferred in most professions because they have more control over their emotions at work. Employees with low emotional stability may be more easily distracted from their work, by deadlines, personal situations, and pressure.

Since the basic trait dimensions of neuroticism worries too much, they may be successful in jobs that cause fewer worries, anxiety, and too much pressure. Examples of these careers are to be a writer, artist, yoga instructor, and freelance designer.

People who are higher in neuroticism tend to do well in environments that offer them safety and security, while allowing them space to breathe and express themselves.

Potential job ideas for those who rank higher in this area are:

  • Writer
  • Artist
  • Accountant
  • Florist
  • Yoga Instructor
  • Freelance Designer

Those who are experience less stress and worry tend to do a good well in crises. They thrive in environments that offer new experiences and utilize their stable, composed temperament.

Potential job ideas for those who rank lower in this area are:

  • Police Officer
  • Surgeon
  • Fire Fighter
  • Lawyer
  • Diplomat
  • Social Worker
  • Psychiatrist

Neuroticism Book Recommendations

Continue expanding your knowledge on the subject of neuroticism and emotional stability by reading the books we have selected for you:  

References

Envision your Evolution

Contemporary psychology

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Big Five circumplex models of Personality
Dominant Emotions
Neuroticism & 
Extraversion

Future-oriented, he is one of those people who know how to appreciate life and enjoy themselves when positive events occur, without being distracted by the negative ones. He can’t stay mad for a long time; people loving to be around him because of his demonstrated cheerfulness and optimism.

The optimist

He is very emotionally involved, switching abruptly from the positive to the negative pole and vice-versa. Relationships with others are tumultuous, frantic because of his intense way of living passionately. Eager to draw attention, he is a thrill-seeker and has difficulties when it comes to controlling emotions.

The Actor
Extraversion
Neuroticism
Extraversion
The Melancholic

He is one of those people who tend to see the glass half-empty, almost always focusing on problems and rarely on opportunities. He is not very involved in relationships with others. He frequently feels sad and has no energy and joy for life.

The Flegmatic

He usually adopts an attitude of indifference. He is not affected by negative events but also doesn’t know how to enjoy positive outcomes. He is perceived as cold and distant in interpersonal relationships, bringing the rational part rather than the emotional one to the table.

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Big Five circumplex models of Personality
Conflict Reaction
Agreeableness & 
Neuroticism

Easily annoyed, perceiving most of the actions of others as being ill-intended. Closed and quiet temperament people accumulate tension gradually and suddenly lash out later on at great intensity. On the other hand, open personalities frequently express their dissatisfactions by engaging in choleric or even aggressive reactions.  

The Nervous

He rarely gets angry in conflictual situations. On the contrary, he is animated by his desire not to hurt others and is easily impressed by their dramas. When confronted with a problematic situation, he tends to blame and punish himself, looking for emotional support in others. He sometimes appears to be what others would call a needy person.

The Sensible
Neuroticism
Agreeableness
Neuroticism
The Executor

He is a calculated person, cold-blooded, who does not act on the impulsive of the moment, but adequately controls his angriness and frustration. In relation with others, he can resort to every means, including manipulation or backstage games, to reach their goals.

The Mellow

He rarely gets angry, and when he does, he can easily get over the sadness or frustration he feels. Having an accommodating personality, he prefers to not care much for the troubles others cause and to look for a consensus when in conflictual situations.

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Big Five circumplex models of Personality
Stress Reaction
Openness & 
Neuroticism

In order to reduce the tension resulted from stressful situations he frequently avoids and represses negative thoughts as a coping mechanism. Another typical characteristic is the tendency to underestimate and ignore the problems that occur. Thus, he is less in contact with his emotions.

The Avoider

He prefers isolating and escaping reality in a fantasy world in which things would have evolved differently and in which eccentric solutions would have been possible. He manifests a lot of sensibility and frailty and gives vent to his imagination, oftentimes exaggerating other people’s actions.

The Fantezist
Neuroticism
Openness to experience
Neuroticism
The Acceptor

He lets himself in the hands of destiny, preferring to get used to and accept the problem that arises rather than try to modify the situation. His premise is that he cannot eliminate the source of stress. To reduce the amount of distress he experiences, he also tends to diminish the gravity of the problem.

The Rationalizer

To eliminate the source of stress, he objectively analyses the situation and comes up with original solutions to overcome the problem at hand. If this is not possible, he restructures how he sees things by using humour or finding secondary benefits for the given situation.

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Big Five circumplex models of Personality
Work Attitude
Conscientiousness & 
Neuroticism

He has difficulties controlling his impulsivity, being less resistant to temptations of any kind than other personalities. Consequently, he does a lot of things that he later regrets. Tends to follow easy paths, quickly giving up in case of obstacles. He surrenders to the present moment, acting as felt at the time.  

The Impulsive

Self-sacrifices, being oriented more towards satisfying the needs of others rather than his own. Manifests an inclination towards perfectionism and tends to guide himself by almost unreachable standards. He frequently feels unsatisfied and tries to manage the emotion by adhering to “must” type rigid rules.

The worrier
Neuroticism
Conscientiousness
Neuroticism
The Relaxed

Frequently needs external incentives to maintain motivation. Displays flexibility in action and manages better in new situations than in a stable well-structured environment with clear rules. Although he is less scrupulous in the tasks he undertakes, he is ultimately pleased with the quality of his work.

The Perseverent

Very ambitious when it comes to goals. Rarely gives up when facing obstacles and setbacks, even when the effort is greater than the benefits. He usually postpones rewards until after he finishes the existing plan. His motto in life is “always move forward”,  showcasing little flexibility.

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