Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Neuroticism is widely believed to be detrimental to health, but the evidence is mixed. Many large-scale studies find null or positive effects of neuroticism on mortality and health. A theory of “healthy neuroticism” was generated to explain these discrepant results. According to this theory, neuroticism can lead an individual down one of two paths: an anxiety and stress-ridden path of maladaptive coping and poor outcomes, or a path of vigilance and proactivity. Trait conscientiousness is thought to be the defining feature of healthy neuroticism, although studies substantiating this claim are few and far between. Meanwhile, other important factors - notably, external cues and emotions - are omitted from these studies altogether. The current thesis examines the roles of situation and emotion on health in relationship to neuroticism. Specifically, a model of healthy neuroticism is proposed. In this model, individuals high in neuroticism respond to threatening situations by feeling greater anxiety, less depression and less anger. These emotions, in turn, propel individuals to act in adaptive ways. This model is tested in two studies. In the first, mid-life adults (N = 1, 499) provide daily reports of their affect (nervousness, depression and anger), health symptoms and health behaviors. Using a multi-level modeling approach, emotion scores and health behaviors are estimated from the interaction of trait neuroticism and daily health symptoms. The residuals of the emotion models are then used to estimate the residuals of the behavior models, effectively estimating the ‘b’ pathway in a mediation model. In the second study, freshman students at a private, Midwestern university (N = 222) provide weekly reports of their affect (anxiety and sadness), whether they received grades back on a test or assignment, and academic behaviors (e.g., hours spent studying). Again, a multi-level model was used to estimate emotion and behavior from trait neuroticism and feedback on grades, and the emotions residuals were used to estimate behavior residuals. In addition to the proposed model, each study examined the role of neuroticism on behavior, the interaction of neuroticism and situation on behavior and the interaction between emotion and situation. Little evidence to support the proposed model was found. Importantly, there was also little evidence that neuroticism or the interaction of neuroticism and situation predicted behavior. Together these results fail to substantiate either the theory of healthy neuroticism or the belief that neuroticism has an impact on health (or academic) behaviors. The current thesis concludes by discussing ways in which personality researchers might improve their methods of measuring emotion and situation and rethink their approach analyzing and discussing the role of neuroticism in predicting or explaining adaptive outcomes.
Chair and Committee
Joshua J. Jackson
Patrick L. Hill, Daniel K. Mroczek, Thomas F. Oltmanns, Michael J. Strube,
Weston, Sara Jo, "Building a theory of adaptive neuroticism" (2017). Arts & Sciences Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 1155.