Skip to main content Accessibility help

Neuroticism and post-traumatic stress disorder: a prospective investigation

  • N. Breslau (a1) and L. Schultz (a2)

Neuroticism has been consistently correlated with the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) response to traumatic events. Interpretation of these findings is limited by the retrospective nature of these findings: neuroticism was measured after the trauma had occurred. The prospective association of neuroticism with PTSD has not been examined (the relationship of neuroticism with PTSD symptoms was examined in a few prospective studies). We evaluate prospectively the relationship of neuroticism, measured at baseline, with the cumulative occurrence of PTSD during the subsequent 10 years, using data from a longitudinal epidemiological study of young adults.


A sample of 1007 young adults randomly selected from the membership of a large health maintenance organization in southeast Michigan was assessed at baseline and followed up at 3, 5 and 10 years later. We conducted a series of multinomial logistic regressions to estimate the relative risk (RR) of exposure to trauma and PTSD by neuroticism at baseline, adjusting for history of major depression (n = 990).


During the 10-year follow-up, 50.2% of the sample experienced traumatic events and 5.2% developed PTSD. Neuroticism score at baseline increased significantly the RR of PTSD response to trauma. Additional analysis revealed that, among persons with history of major depression at baseline, RR for PTSD associated with neuroticism was equal to the null value of 1, but was increased significantly among those with no history of major depression.


The results confirm the role of neuroticism as diathesis in the PTSD response to traumatic experiences.

Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: N. Breslau, Ph.D., Department of Epidemiology, Michigan State University, College of Human Medicine, B645 West Fee Hall, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA. (Email:
Hide All
Alexander, DA, Wells, A (1991). Reactions of police officers to body-handling after a major disaster. A before-and-after comparison. British Journal of Psychiatry 159, 547555.
Breslau, N, Davis, GC, Andreski, P, Peterson, E (1991). Traumatic events and posttraumatic stress disorder in an urban population of young adults. Archives of General Psychiatry 48, 216222.
Breslau, N, Kessler, R, Chilcoat, HD, Schultz, LR, Davis, GC, Andreski, P (1998 a). Trauma and posttraumatic stress disorder in the community: the 1996 Detroit Area Survey of Trauma. Archives of General Psychiatry 55, 626632.
Breslau, N, Kessler, R, Peterson, E (1998 b). Post traumatic stress disorder assessment with a structured interview: reliability and concordance with a standardized clinical interview. International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research 7, 121127.
Breslau, N, Lucia, VC, Alvarado, GF (2006). Intelligence and other predisposing factors in exposure to trauma and posttraumatic stress disorder: a follow-up study at age 17 years. Archives of General Psychiatry 63, 12381245.
Breslau, N, Lucia, VC, Davis, GC (2004). Partial PTSD versus full PTSD: an empirical examination of associated impairment. Psychological Medicine 34, 12051214.
Casella, L, Motta, RW (1990). Comparison of characteristics of Vietnam veterans with and without posttraumatic stress disorder. Psychological Reports 67, 595605.
Engelhard, IM, van den Hout, MA, Kindt, M (2003). The relationship between neuroticism, pre-traumatic stress and post-traumatic stress: a prospective study. Personality and Individual Differences 35, 381388.
Engelhard, IM, van den Hout, MA, Lommen, MJJ (2009). Individuals high in neuroticism are not more reactive to adverse events. Personality and Individual Differences 47, 697700.
Eysenck, SBG, Eysenck, HJ (1964). Manual of the Eysenck Personality Inventory. London University Press: London.
Eysenck, SBG, Eysenck, HJ, Barrett, P (1985). A revised version of the psychoticism scale. Personality and Individual Differences 6, 2129.
Fullerton, J, Cubin, M, Tiwari, H, Wang, C, Bomhra, A, Davidson, S, Miller, S, Fairburn, C, Goodwin, G, Neale, MC, Fiddy, S, Mott, R, Allison, DB, Flint, J (2003). Linkage analysis of extremely discordant and concordant sibling pairs identifies quantitative-trait loci that influence variation in the human personality trait neuroticism. American Journal of Human Genetics 72, 879890.
Hyer, L, Braswell, L, Albrecht, B, Boyd, S, Boudewyns, P, Talbert, S (1994). Relationship of NEO-PI to personality styles and severity of trauma in chronic PTSD victims. Journal of Clinical Psychology 50, 699707.
Kendler, KS, Prescott, CA (2006). Genes, Environment, and Psychopathology: Understanding the Causes of Psychiatric and Substance Use Disorders. The Guilford Press: New York, NY.
Kessler, RC, Berglund, P, Demler, O, Jin, R, Merikangas, KR, Walters, EE (2005). Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of General Psychiatry 62, 593602.
Kessler, RC, Sonnega, A, Bromet, E, Hughes, M, Nelson, CB (1995). Posttraumatic stress disorder in the National Comorbidity Survey. Archives of General Psychiatry 52, 10481060.
Lesch, KP, Bengel, D, Heils, A, Sabol, SZ, Greenberg, BD, Petri, S, Benjamin, J, Müller, CR, Hamer, DH, Murphy, DL (1996). Association of anxiety-related traits with a polymorphism in the serotonin transporter gene regulatory region. Science 274, 15271531.
McFarlane, AC (1988). The longitudinal course of posttraumatic morbidity: the range of outcomes and their predictors. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 176, 3039.
McFarlane, AC (1989). The treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. British Journal of Medical Psychology 62, 8190.
Parslow, RA, Jorm, AF, Christensen, H (2006). Association of pre-trauma attributes and trauma exposure with screening positive for PTSD: analysis of a community-based study of 2,085 young adults. Psychological Medicine 36, 387395.
Talbert, FS, Braswell, LC, Albrecht, JW, Hyer, LA, Boudewyns, PA (1993). NEO-PI profiles in PTSD as a function of trauma level. Journal of Clinical Psychology 49, 663669.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0033-2917
  • EISSN: 1469-8978
  • URL: /core/journals/psychological-medicine
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed