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Neuroticism (derived from neurosis ) is in the psychology one of the main dimensions of the personality and is in the personality and differential psychology examined.


The term and the concept go back to the psychologist Hans Jürgen Eysenck . An alternative term related to Eysenck's theory is emotional lability .

The following characteristics and behaviors are often found in people with a high neuroticism score:

  • Tendency to be nervous
  • Irritability, moodiness
  • Tendency to be insecure and embarrassed
  • Complaints of anger and fears
  • Complaints of physical pain (headache, stomach discomfort, dizziness, etc.)
  • Tendency towards sadness and melancholy
  • Very sensitive to stress
  • Rather negative affect
  • Persistent dissatisfaction

Theoretical background

Eysenck constructed his personality dimensions using a factor analysis . According to the theory, all personality traits are based on the fact that they are relatively stable, consistent and lasting over time. According to Eysenck, the neuroticism factor can be divided into the dimensions of instability and stability . In terms of factor analysis, it has close connections with the terms “poorly organized personality”, “dependent” or “abnormal before the disease”. Eysenck also described it as a “lack of personality integration”.

Eysenck saw the origin in differences between individuals in terms of autonomic physiological arousal . According to this, personalities with high neuroticism scores react more strongly to fearful and stressful situations than emotionally stable individuals. In addition, after such arousal, they need longer to return to their original state. Eysenck used the limbic system as an explanation , which among other things is responsible for processing emotions. Neuroticistic behavior is thus the result of a strong reaction of the limbic system to external stimuli. This means that neuroses occur more often in people with a high neuroticism score , because external stimuli are encoded more emotionally and thus conditioned .

Neuroticism, together with extraversion , compatibility , openness and conscientiousness, form the so-called “ Big Fivepersonality traits . The neuroticism score is usually recorded together with other personality traits by means of psychological questionnaires (tests). Such more comprehensive tests are e.g. B. the 566 questions comprehensive MMPI personality questionnaire (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory) or the NEO-FFI .

In the more recent personality theory of the Big Five aspect scale according to Dr. Jordan Peterson and colleagues, neuroticism is divided into the sub-aspects "withdrawal" and "volatility", which are statistically the most significant.

Connection with diseases

Neuroticism, like other personality traits, is subject to moderate to substantial influences through heredity. Twin studies have shown that both neuroticism scores and unipolar depression (major depressive disorder) are hereditary to a similar extent, 40 to 50 percent. Neuroticism is also a risk factor for dysphoria , anxiety disorders, and tension . It could be shown that very high premorbid neuroticism values ​​reliably predict the later onset of depression. Hence, it is believed that neuroticism and depression are caused, at least in part, by common gene variants.


Individual evidence

  1. Hans Jürgen Eysenck: Dimensions of personality . Transaction Publishers, 1947.
  2. Costa, PT, Jr., McCrae, RR (1985). The NEO Personality Inventory manual . Odessa, Florida: Psychological Assessment Resources.
  3. DeYoung, Colin G., Quilty, Lena C., Peterson, Jordan B .: Between facets and domains-10 aspects of the Big Five. In: . Retrieved February 20, 2020 .
  4. Bouchard & McGue: Genetic and environmental influences on human psychological differences . In: Journal of Neurobiology . 54, 2003, pp. 4-45. doi : 10.1002 / new.10160 .
  5. ^ Douglas F. Levinson: The Genetics of Depression: A Review . In: Biological Psychiatry . 2006. doi : 10.1016 / j.biopsych.2005.08.024 . PMID 16300747 .