Skip to ContentSkip to Navigation
About usNews and EventsEvents and open daysPhD ceremonies

Environmental influences on neuroticism

A story about emotional (in)stability
PhD ceremony:dr. B.F. (Bertus) Jeronimus
When:March 16, 2015
Supervisors:prof. dr. J. (Hans) Ormel, prof. dr. A.J. (Tineke) Oldehinkel
Co-supervisor:dr. H. (Harriëtte) Riese
Where:Academy building RUG
Faculty:Medical Sciences / UMCG
Environmental influences on neuroticism

High neuroticism is the single most important risk factor in public mental health, a personal burden, and a substantial cost to society. About half of the individual differences in neuroticism have a non-genetic origin. In this thesis, I investigated whether and how environmental influences associate with change in neuroticism, and how long such changes persist. To do so, I performed a series of longitudinal studies. Additionally, I reviewed studies on monozygotic twin pairs discordant for neuroticism (a design that reduces genetic confounding of life event occurrences) and longitudinal studies on within-individual changes in neuroticism in adults. Results indicate that increases in the set point of neuroticism tend to follow stressful life events (especially social stress and conflict) that can be characterized as unpredictable, uncontrollable, unexpected, undesirable, and non-normative from a life history perspective. Additionally, we critically examined the meaning of the previously reported strong prospective association between neuroticism and the common mental disorders (CMDs, viz. anxiety, depression, and substance use disorders). This was done in a series of longitudinal studies and a review of population studies in which neuroticism predicts CMDs. The key observation is that high neuroticism is, indeed, an important prospective indicator of risk for the development of full-blown psychological disorders, and can, to some extent, be viewed as sub-threshold psychopathology. In conclusion, this thesis indicates that the neuroticism set point is embedded in the environment, sensitive to both positive and negative life events, consequential for future mental health, and more malleable than researchers originally believed.