Neurotic people suffer more often from mood swings

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( Image: Depositphotos)
( Image: Depositphotos)

In everyday life, our emotions often change from moment to moment, and people experience these fluctuations to varying degrees. Psychologists at the University of Leipzig have investigated the connection between the personality trait neuroticism - a potential risk factor for mental health - and emotional experience. They found that neurotic people experience negative emotions not only more intensely, but also with more mood swings than others. They have now published their findings in the journal -Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences- (PNAS).

-Previous studies agree that neurotic individuals experience stronger negative emotions in everyday life. There was disagreement due to new, contradictory studies about whether this is also associated with increased variability in emotional experience, i.e. mood swings-, says the study’s first author Nina Mader from the Wilhelm Wundt Institute of Psychology at the University of Leipzig. The personality psychologists at the University of Leipzig have found a new approach to modeling the data that solves previous methodological problems. -We use an approach from Bayesian statistics that allows additional flexibility in data modeling. We first successfully tested this approach in simulations and then re-examined 13 longitudinal data sets. The results suggest that neurotic people do indeed experience greater variability in negative emotions-, Mader explains. A total of 2,518 people were asked about their emotions.

Neuroticism is a personality trait. The individual personality traits describe relatively stable, trans-situationally consistent characteristics of a person over time. They encompass both our experience and our behavior and thus also how we think (cognitions) and feel (affects). People differ in their personalities and thus in their expression of neuroticism. -There is therefore not a black-and-white division into neurotic people and non-neurotic people, but rather a dimensional continuum with many shades of gray-, says the psychologist.

People with high neuroticism scores not only experience negative emotions more strongly, but also more frequently than people with average or below-average scores. They are more often self-critical, react worse to external criticism and experience more often the feeling of "not being good enough". Studies have shown that neuroticism scores are highest during late adolescence and then decrease and stabilize during adulthood. In addition, women and people with low socioeconomic status have higher neuroticism scores than other people.

Since the 1990s, personality psychologists have been interested in how and whether personality influences our emotional experience. In several studies, the personality of a large sample was surveyed and the emotional experience was observed over a longer period of time. For example, the subjects were asked several times a day how sad, angry or bored they were on a scale of 1 to 7. This clearly showed that there is a connection between neuroticism and the experience of negative emotions. -While negative emotions occur very rarely in everyday life in people with low neuroticism scores, people with high neuroticism scores report significantly more negative emotions in their daily lives," explains Mader. This is referred to as a disproportionately strong reaction to triggering circumstances. For example, a small disagreement could trigger great anger in the latter, or even just the thought that the train might be very crowded today could cause strong stress and worry.

Original title of publication in PNAS:

-Emotional (in)stability: Neuroticism is associated with increased variability in negative emotion after all- , doi.org/10.1073/pnas.221215412

Susann Huster