Motivation and emotion/Book/2014/Neuroticism and emotion
How does neuroticism influence emotion?
As researchers knowledge of individual differences increases it means that more examinations and distinctions between individuals can be drawn. One of the main areas in which we see this occurring currently is personality, through development of different personality types and understandings grow the foundations and ways in which personality affect society as a whole can be examined. Emotion and the variations in emotion as a concept are also constantly being affected by developments in other areas of psychology such as personality. As more information comes to light regarding advancements in both of these areas more conclusions as to other overlaps and impacts of each area can be examined. Such as personality understanding increases its effects on emotion and on future emotion can be examined and utilised in a manner to most effectively benefit society .
What is neuroticism?
A personality trait
A personality trait is defined as the quantified and the marked variations in typical responding to the environment that distinguishes one person from another ( Mischel, 2004). Neuroticism is at a basic level an aspect of the personality trait dimension. A trait is the unit used to describe differing aspects of individual’s personality, the structure of an individual’s personality is based on the differing traits they display and how they are organised within this dimension. A personality trait is defined by the following aspects:
- A relatively enduring characteristic of the personality
- Represents a pattern of behaviour, thinking, feeling that is relatively consistent over a variety of different situations
- A way in which people differ from one another
- Are dispositions
- Vary in their generality
Given these relatively stable aspects of a personality trait it can be seen how being able to label and describe individuals by their personality characteristics could be beneficial in society especially from a psychological point of view. It allows a quick initial assessments to be made for individuals across a broad range of characteristics which can then be applied to varying situations to allow an understanding of behavioural outcomes for something as vital in ever day functioning as how an individual reacts with others on a personal level to something as broad as how suited a particular individual may be to a particular employment opportunity.
The definition of neuroticism has been subject to maladaptive manipulation in the past. The negative connotation derives from its archaic definition relating to psychiatry referring to negative manifestations of feelings of anxiety. The current definition of neuroticism encompasses an individual’s emotional stability or instability; people with high neuroticism levels are more likely to experience more negative emotions such as anxiety, anger, sadness, shame and embarrassment . This does not mean that an individual only experiences negative emotions and doesn’t experience any other emotions, contrary to this belief an individual high on neuroticism scale can still be high on any other personality trait scale as well . This means an individual can be high in neuroticism (susceptible to experiencing negative emotions) as well as being high on the agreeableness scale (susceptible to be warming, friendly and kind) . Neuroticism levels just mean that an individual is more likely to experience maladaptive and negative emotions . Individuals with high neuroticism levels generally display low self-esteem levels, due to their vulnerability to experiencing more intense negative emotions .
The lifetime prevalence of neuroticism levels show that it is present from a young age, neuroticism levels tend to peak during the late adolescence – early adulthood period of an individual’s life. After this peak neuroticism level is reached there is very little change throughout the remaining lifespan as the neuroticism levels tend to stabilise and even decline moderately through adulthood (Costa et.al., 1986). Neuroticism scores have been found to be slightly but significantly higher in females than in males (Costa, McCrae & Terracciano, 2001). There is also a trend found around an individual’s socio-economic background determining their neuroticism score, those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds tend to display higher scores on the neuroticism scale than those from more privileged backgrounds (Judge, Higgins, Thoresen & Barrick, 1999).
Neuroticism is one of the’ Big Five’ (also known as five-factor model) personality dimensions (McCrae & Costa, 1987). These five factors were named by a number of personality researchers as representations of the main personality trait variations found between individuals. The five factors of the ‘Big Five’ personality scale are:
- Extraversion: high levels of extraversion individual’s show the following behaviours; sociable, assertive, energetic, talkative, enthusiastic
- Agreeableness: high levels of agreeableness show the following behaviours; warm, modest, kind, trusting, affectionate, helpful
- Conscientiousness: high levels of conscientiousness show the following behaviours; efficient, organised, thorough, reliable
- Neuroticism: high levels of neuroticism show the following behaviours; tense, irritable, shy, moody, nervous, high-strung
- Openness to Experience: high levels of openness to experience show the following behaviours; imaginative, intelligent, original, insightful, curious, sophisticated
The ‘Big Five’ personality model is the most widely accepted personality model in contemporary personality psychology, it is believed to encompass all the vital parts of personality dimensions universally. Many of the personality inventories used today are based on one or multiple aspects of these trait factors used to categorise personality types.
Neuroticism outside of the five-factor model still exists as a key aspect of personality and in further attempts to simplify the personality model and move away from the five-factor model personality models such as the three-factor model has been proposed, Eysenck also proposed to two-factor model of personality. The one consistency with all of these proposed personality models is that neuroticism is agreed to be one of the defining factors generally along with extraversion-introversion traits. The fact that neuroticism is a consistent factor in majority of personality models suggested shows its importance to the personality domain and how it is paramount in helping categorise and understand personality types.
Factors affecting Neuroticism
The tendency to be susceptible to high neuroticism levels have been examined in terms of helping to gain a greater understanding as to the prevalence rate of neuroticism and how it manifests in personality. Genetics has been linked to many areas of psychology of which personality is one; however, these links are not always positive. In terms of personality the ability to link specific genes to specific personality traits for example being able to say a specific gene leads to neuroticism raises a question of (with advancements in technology) the potential of aborting foetuses with undesirable characteristics. However, as with most things personality is not purely determined by genetics and there are large environmental influences on the developments of personality which must be taken into consideration.
The basis of genetic personality theories stemmed from Hans Eysenck’s (1967) theory, his focus was on extraversion and neuroticism as the two fundamental personality traits. His account of neuroticism referred to the activation of the ‘visceral brain’ as the basis for neurotic emotional instability. The ‘visceral brain’ roughly corresponded to the primitive region of the brain responding to emotional and motivational processes which reflects anxiety and other negative emotional states. Eysenck stated that variation in reaction to mild stress in the visceral brain is what allows for variation amongst individuals in neuroticism levels. This theory was the basis for many following theories such as Gray’s (1981) in place of extraversion and neuroticism he proposed the ideas of scales of impulsivity and anxiety Behavioural Approach System (BAS) correlates to impulsivity and the Behavioural Inhibition System (BIS) which correlates to the neuroticism (anxiety) trait. He theorised that both these traits are present in all mammals, involves different responses to environments. People high on the BAS are sensitive to rewards where as those that show high scores on the BIS scale are more motivated by punishment avoidance.
The link between environmental and genetic effects has been known to be one of the main triggers of personality development. There are currently three main theories as to how genetics and environmental triggers react to cause personality development:
- Genetic-set-point hypothesis: This hypothesis states that genetic factors determine individual set points to which individuals will return after environmental influences trigger these set points to react. This theory produces short-term changes in personality scores. (Carey, 2002)
- Genetic-maturation hypothesis: This hypothesis states that rank-order stability is exclusively mediated by genetic factors and suggests that significant environmental effects on personality traits mainly result from short-term influences and systematic as well as random measurement error (McCrae et al., 2000)
- Genotype-environment-transaction hypothesis: This hypothesis states that the stability in neuroticism results from transactions between genetic and environmental factors (Caspi, Roberts & Shiner, 2005)
The basic understanding of neuroticism influences is that it can be broken down into a stable component and a chance component. The stable component is the genetic/heritability component that remains stable overtime and is subject to little change. The change component is the environmental effects that stay in place as triggers to influence neuroticism levels within an individual. As age increases the environmental effects seem to have a larger influence on neuroticism than the genetic effects due to the stability of the genetics .
What is Emotion?
Emotion is a word commonly used in not only psychology but society as well. Emotion is one of those phenomena that when asked to define it researchers struggle to find a single definition that encompasses all of the vital parts of emotions. Emotions are a multidimensional; they are a concept that involves subjective, biological, purposive and social phenomena. The way in which an individual understands and represents emotions is paramount to how emotions are classified and interpreted. Representations of emotions determine how judgements about our emotions and emotions we see in others are defined. From this information it is clear that subjective interpretation is a huge factor in the problem of defining emotions. The other difficulty with the subjective nature of emotions is evidence for reporting on emotions is all subjective or through self-reports or verbalisations meaning the language defining emotion are also subject to individual interpretation. There is no concrete definition of emotions and how each individual experiences them. Given the difficulty in defining emotions, one of the more encompassing definitions in existence is:
“Emotions are short-lived, feeling-arousal-purposive-expressive phenomena that help us adapt to the opportunities and challenges we face during life events” (Reeve, 2009, p. 301).
Whilst this is one fairly general existing definition there is of course many variations placing emphasis on differing aspects emotion. Emotions are also strongly linked to our ability to process information rapidly with minimal conscious thought behind it – for example evident in fight or flight responses. Generally if we come across something in our environment that seems out of place it triggers an emotion within us i.e. fear, anger which in turns enables us to prepare for a resulting behaviour i.e. to flee or to fight.
Factors affecting emotion
Emotions have been found to show ambiguity in terms of their cultural relevance as well which runs paramount to the difficulty in defining emotions. Emotions have been found to be both universal as well as culturally specific . At a basic level cultures dictate norms within cultural societies in relation to acceptable behaviours; these norms can be transferred to emotions as well . By regulating and dictating acceptable behaviours the cultural norms influence emotion by creating prescribed scripts in relation to how to behave acceptably in certain situations and what level of emotion is appropriate to express (Hwang & Matsumoto, 2012). Cultural variation therefore, is evident in both the perception and production of emotional expression. One of the major cultural differences found in emotions is in the intensity of an emotion experienced, for example when examining the same emotional facial expressions American participants rated the same expression as much more intense than those from a Japanese culture, across many differing emotions (Ekman et. al., 1987, Matsumoto, 1990, Matsumoto & Ekman, 1989 as cited in Engleman and Pogosyan, 2013).
There is also a difference in the focus on the emotional experience amongst cultures. Consistent with typical Individualistic and Collectivist cultural norms the focus on the experience of the emotion differs amongst cultures. The individualistic cultures (Western) tend to focus more on the individual and being true to the individual self. In comparison Collectivist cultures tend to focus more on themselves as being part of a small part of a larger society and focus on group goals rather than individual goals. There has been evidence from studies on concealing emotions in response to a horror move. When alone in a room watching the horror movie to the cultural variations displayed the same scared facial expressions in response to the horror movie however, when a presence was placed in the room in the form of another person those from individualistic cultures did not change their responses whereas those from a collectivist cultures attempted to suppress their emotional expression throughout the movie. The researchers concluded that this was due to the Collectivist cultural rule of concealing negative affect in social settings (Ekman, 1971). As with being defined by cultural norms these cultural guidelines also define the type of emotions individuals are ‘allowed’ to experience, for example guilt and shame are more acceptable in some cultures than in others.
Given this entire cultural context it is important to note that no emotion is purely culturally driven without biological input but likewise no emotion is purely biologically driven without cultural input. The link between the biological and cultural drivers behind emotion is still driven by one another. Culture regulates the biological drives of emotion by calibrating and defining what sorts of events are allowed to warrant an emotion response. This again draws back to culture defining what sorts of emotions are acceptable and the behavioural responses that go with it.
Biologically emotions are innate. Emotions are a physiological and psychological reaction to a situation an individual has been presented with. The evidence for the biological innateness of emotions is evident from primate testing. Primates display similar facial manipulations in response to emotional signalling that humans display (Parr, Heintz & Waller, 2008). This is only the beginning of the research on emotions in relation to the biological expression. Similar findings have been found from studying facial expressions of blind individuals. Visually impaired individuals showed the same facial expressions in response to emotions as those with sight, considering they could not learn these reactions from observing others, the evidence implies that these facial representations of emotions must have a biological basis. Similarly, the same facial manipulations as found in fully grown adults, in response to emotions also exist in newborn infants (Ekman & Oster, 1979). All this evidence leaves no question as to the fact that there is definitely a biological basis for the cause of emotions which is heavily influenced by culture as well.
How Does Neuroticism Influence Emotion?
Positive and Negative Affect
Neuroticism effects emotions through allowing psychologists to draw on what is known about personality traits and link them to emotional factors to help understand how individual’s functions differ. One of the most popular models to examine the connection between neuroticism and emotion is the ‘Big Two’ dimensions in regards to positive and negative affects (Watson & Tellegen, 1985 as cited in Tellegen, Vaidya Watson & Wiese, 1999). This theory remains reliable across cultures, in single moment reports as well as short periods of time and extended periods of time. The positive and negativity affect relates to emotional experience. Neuroticism is strongly linked to negative affects, not in terms of emotionality but more that they are more prone to experience negative emotions (negative affects). This proneness to negative affects does not mean they are unlikely to experience positive aspects. The high neuroticism score does not dictate their ability to experience positive affect and effects of other levels of emotions experienced, just that as an individual they have a predisposition to experience negative emotions. This ability to understand the experience of negative emotions and how a personality trait affects this can allow for broader understanding of mental health and susceptibility to other related illnesses.
Neuroticism and the Ability to Regulate and Predict Emotions
The ability to predict future effects of a personality type is another advantage of being able to understand the influences neuroticism has on emotion. Given that the knowledge of neuroticism prevalence (that is remains stable with little change over time) is understood it means that future predictions about how neuroticism could affect an individual’s emotional functioning can be predicted. Neuroticism will obviously affect an individual’s predisposition to future negative emotionality. It has been found that (regardless of cultural influences) an individual who is high on the neuroticism scale is predicted to experience a higher negative affect over a period of 10 years than those who are low on the neuroticism scale (Costa & McCrae, 1980). Based on the evidence that individual’s high on the neuroticism scale tend to show lower use of strategies to repair negative emotions not only at a present age but at a later age as well it can be stated that personality traits, more specifically neuroticism is associated with an individual’s ability to regulate and predict their emotions. Based on the idea that individual’sshow lower use of strategies to repair negative emotions it is shown that their emotional-regulation strategies are not adequate are therefore tend to have limited effect on attempting to repair existing negative emotional experiences, which in turns allows for predictions regarding their future emotional health to be examined. As an assumption it could be made that the emotional health of those with high neuroticism scores could be affected by their debilitating efforts to repair negative emotions and as a result they may be more prone to experiencing negative and debilitating emotions throughout their life .
Negative Emotions and Mental Health
The main correlation between neuroticism and emotion is the role that neuroticism plays in mental health. Neuroticism is strongly correlated to mental disorders and mental health, understanding more about neuroticism allows a better understanding of the mental disorders that manifest and how they come about. Research has demonstrated strong links between emotional health and the Big 5 personality factors, predominantly that those individuals higher on the neuroticism scale are less likely to be happy (Cooper & DeNeve, 1998). It was found in a study of the USA that out of the Big 5 concepts, those with the higher neuroticism levels showed poorer emotional health at a state level, neuroticism alone accounted for 48% of the emotional health level variation in the USA (James & McCann, 2011) . Neuroticism has been shown to be a stronger predictor for mental and physical disorders than any other personality trait. Large effects sizes were found for associations between neuroticism and depression, general anxiety disorder and panic disorders and medium effect sizes were found for correlations between neuroticism and phobias, drug and alcohol dependency and antisocial personality disorder. There were also correlations supporting evidence for relationships between neuroticism and other personality disorders, however, antisocial showed the strongest correlation (Lahey, 2009). Neuroticism has also been shown to be a strong predictor on the comorbidity (presence of two mental disorders) in individuals with depression (20-45% or comorbidity had high neuroticism levels) and on alcohol or substance dependence (19-48% of individuals had high neuroticism levels) (Khan et. al., 2005). From all of this evidence it is clear that neuroticism as a personality trait has the strongest correlation with psychopathology and being able to understand and examine individuals high in neuroticism allows them to get the support and potential aid they may require for emotional disorders in the future.
From clearly defining neuroticism and emotion, the links between the two become increasingly obvious. Neuroticism is associated with extreme negative emotionality despite culture, genetics and environment it is a steady and ever present aspect of personality. Emotions are short lived feelings heavily influenced by biology, culture and environment. The effect that neuroticism has on future and present emotionality is vital in understanding how an individual could react in response to certain situations as well as allowing an element of prediction in terms of overall public health requirements. Being able to accurately assess personalities allow us to accurately learn and accommodate any requirements specific to those personality assessments.
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