Table of Contents
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:
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
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).
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:
- 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
- Fire Fighter
- Social Worker
Neuroticism Book Recommendations
Continue expanding your knowledge on the subject of neuroticism and emotional stability by reading the books we have selected for you:
- John, O. P., & Srivastava, S. (1999). The Big-Five trait taxonomy: History, measurement, and theoretical perspectives. In L. A. Pervin & O. P. John (Eds.), Handbook of personality: Theory and research (Vol. 2, pp. 102–138). New York: Guilford Press.
- Rachel L.C. Mitchell, Veena Kumari, Hans Eysenck’s interface between the brain and personality: Modern evidence on the cognitive neuroscience of personality, Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 103, 2016, Pages 74-81, ISSN 0191-8869, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2016.04.009.
- Barlow, D. H., Ellard, K. K., Sauer-Zavala, S., Bullis, J. R., & Carl, J. R. (2014). The origins of neuroticism. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 9(5), 481-496.
- F. Anagnostopoulos & T. Botsev (2016). 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, Behavioural Sciences, Vol. 6, issue 2.