British Journal of Clinical Psychology

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Volume 50 Issue 1 (March 2011), Pages 1-114

Neuroticism explained? From a non‐informative vulnerability marker to informative person–context interactions in the realm of daily life (pages 19-32)

Objectives. Despite the well‐replicated finding that neuroticism is associated with increased susceptibility for psychopathology, it remains unclear what ‘vulnerability as indexed by neuroticism’ represents in terms of everyday life emotional processes. This study examined the association between neuroticism and six phenotypes of daily life emotional responses: positive affect (PA), negative affect (NA), PA variability, NA variability, stress sensitivity, and reward experience, and investigated the contribution of genetic and environmental factors to these associations.

Design. A prospective cohort study in a population‐based sample of 416 adult female twins.

Method. A momentary assessment approach (experience sampling method) was used to collect multiple assessments of affect in daily life. Neuroticism was assessed with the Eysenck Personality Scale. Multi‐level regression analyses were carried out to examine the association between neuroticism and the phenotypes of daily life emotional responses. Cross‐twin, cross‐trait analyses, and bivariate structural equation modelling (SEM) were performed in order to investigate the nature of these associations.

Results. A high neuroticism score was associated with lower momentary PA levels and increased NA variability, independent of momentary NA, PA variability, stress sensitivity, and reward experience. Both the cross‐twin, cross‐trait analyses, and the bivariate SEM showed that unique, non‐shared environmental factors drive the association between neuroticism and PA and that the association between neuroticism and increased NA variability is based on shared genetic factors as well as individual‐specific environmental factors.

Conclusions. Neuroticism as measured by Eysenck questionnaire may index an environmental risk for decreased daily life PA levels and a genetic as well as an environmental risk for increased NA variability. Decomposing the broad measure of neuroticism into measurable persons–context interactions increases its ‘informative’ value in explaining psychopathology.

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