Neuroticism

woody allen by matt kish

neurotic by Han Hoogerbrugge

Neuroticism [noo-rot-uh-siz-uhm] is a fundamental personality trait in the study of psychology. It is 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 depressed mood.

Neuroticism, along with other personality traits, has been mapped across states in the USA. People in eastern states such as New York, New Jersey, West Virginia, and Mississippi tend to score high on neuroticism, whereas people in many western states, such as Utah, Colorado, South Dakota, Oregon, and Arizona score lower on average. People in states that are higher in neuroticism also tend to have higher rates of heart disease and lower life expectancy.

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 associated with low emotional intelligence, which involves emotional regulation, motivation, and interpersonal skills. It is also a risk factor for ‘internalizing’ mental disorders such as phobia, depression, panic disorder, and other anxiety disorders (traditionally called neuroses).

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.

Being high on positive emotion 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.’ Individuals who score low on neuroticism (particularly those who are also high on extraversion) generally report more happiness and satisfaction with their lives.

Like other personality traits, neuroticism is typically viewed as a continuous dimension, rather than as 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 large enough 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 several personality inventories.

Neuroticism appears to be related to physiological differences in the brain. Some theories propose that neuroticism is a function of activity in the limbic system, the part of the brain concerned with emotion and motivation. Neurotics have also been theorized to posses more reactive sympathetic nervous system, and be more sensitive to environmental stimulation. Research has shown that a significant portion of the variability on measures of neuroticism can be attributed to genetic factors.

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