Episode #8 of the course Introduction to personality psychology: The Big 5 traits by Dr. Daniel McGrath
Welcome back! In today’s lesson, we are going to focus on the final trait in the Big 5 model of personality, which is neuroticism. Statements that describe neuroticism are:
• I have frequent mood swings.
• I feel threatened easily.
• I worry about things.
As a trait, neuroticism represents negative emotions and nervousness. Neuroticism is the personality trait that is most strongly related to other mental health concerns like anxiety, depression, being temperamental, and anger. Trait neuroticism ultimately describes how emotionally stable somebody is and how sensitive they are to negative things that can happen to them.
Levels of neuroticism are normally at their highest in young adulthood, and this is especially the case for women. Some research suggests that the social environment faced by girls and young women may contribute to higher neuroticism, while other research indicates that biological differences between men and women explain these differences.
The good news is that as we get older, the difference between men and women begins to even out. That is, for women, levels of neuroticism often begin to drop as they become more established in their lives. Longitudinal research has also found that neuroticism remains quite stable into adulthood but can decrease slightly in later life.
Being High on Neuroticism
So, what does it mean to score high on the trait of neuroticism?
Highly neurotic people generally have a challenging time coping with many of the demands of life. They are more likely to see situations as being threatening, even if others don’t see it that way. For example, someone who is highly neurotic may feel that constructive criticism is a direct attack, even when it isn’t.
They also are more likely to be highly self-conscious about how they are portrayed to others and have poor impulse control to stop themselves from acting in harmful ways.
The hallmark feature of neuroticism is rapid mood change. Unsurprisingly, dramatic shifts in mood make it difficult for people to maintain their relationships with other people. Higher neuroticism is often associated with poorer relationship satisfaction and mental health as a result.
Highly neurotic people are more likely to experience jealousy or react poorly if they feel slighted. In one study of newlyweds, it was found that high neuroticism in one of the partners was related to lower marital and sexual satisfaction one year later. Divorce rates among highly neurotic people are higher than average.
In the workplace, high neuroticism is associated with less success. Research suggests that neuroticism can lead to more job dissatisfaction, burnout, and switching careers.
Being Average on Neuroticism
As you may have already suspected, those scoring in the middle on neuroticism experience a few of the negative aspects of neuroticism but not in any consistent way.
In other words, scoring in the middle on this trait suggests that you may be a calm person most of the time, but on occasion, you can feel overwhelmed emotionally, especially when stressed.
So, rather than a general way of being, people who experience some neuroticism are influenced by the situations they find themselves in.
Being Low on Neuroticism
On the other end of the spectrum, low neuroticism is called emotional stability. People who are low on neuroticism are often more content in their lives and are confident in their abilities.
They also report fewer medical and psychological problems. Much of this is due to having less stress in their lives. Why is this the case? They tend to approach stressful situations with more positive coping strategies. That is, they are more likely to experience fewer negative emotions and know how to cope with these emotions when they happen.
In terms of relationships, low neuroticism in both partners is associated with greater relationship satisfaction. These couples tend to be more emotionally in tune with each other.
At work, low neuroticism is associated with less worrying, which translates to a better ability to focus on the job and stay on task. Yet interestingly, highly neurotic people are also worried about getting their work done and will work harder to please their bosses. So in this respect, neuroticism has both pros and cons in the workplace.
Today’s Task: Of all the Big 5 traits, neuroticism is usually the most problematic, and lowering neuroticism is often a goal for people who are high on this trait. Here are a few actions that may help lower neuroticism:
• If you are worried about something in the future, spend time visualizing the best case scenario instead.
• When you feel a negative emotion, write down the reasons you think you feel that way.
• Make a list of the things you like to do, choose one activity, and then go out and do it.
In tomorrow’s lesson, I am going to discuss how these separate traits interact with each other to influence behavior.
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