Reciprocal effects of personality and general distress: Neuroticism vulnerability is stronger than scarring.

Alexander L. Williams*, Michelle G. Craske, Susan Mineka, Richard E. Zinbarg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Internalizing (anxiety and depressive) disorders, and the symptoms that comprise them, are known for being chronic and recurrent. Neuroticism, reflecting dispositional tendencies toward negative affect, is a personality trait that bears durable cross-sectional and prospective associations with internalizing symptoms. There are also indications that extraversion, consisting of tendencies such as the heightened experience of positive emotion, is associated with these symptoms. Some investigators have posited that the experience of internalizing symptoms leaves residual effects, or scars, on personality traits, with the effect of raising risk of symptom reexacerbation. In the present study, we compare vulnerability and scar effects in a sample of older adolescents (N = 606) at risk for the development of internalizing disorders. Anxiety and depressive symptoms were assessed annually, as were neuroticism, extraversion, and other trait-like cognitive vulnerabilities. Cross-lagged panel models compared the relative strength of vulnerability and scar effects, revealing support for vulnerability effects but little evidence of scar effects. The results also showed that whatever scar effects might be present are weaker than vulnerability effects in the case of neuroticism. These findings underscore the importance of personality vulnerability for internalizing symptom risk by suggesting that neuroticism vulnerability is stronger than any lasting scars the experience of internalizing symptoms produce. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved) General Scientific Summary: Some investigators have speculated that internalizing symptoms could leave a residual effect, or scar, on personality traits. In a sample of emerging adults, we found very limited evidence that internalizing symptoms are associated with scar effects on neuroticism or extraversion. Instead, we found that vulnerability effects of neuroticism on internalizing symptoms were greater in magnitude, suggesting that scar effects, if present, are weaker than vulnerability effects for neuroticism. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved)

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)34-46
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of abnormal psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021


  • extraversion
  • internalizing symptoms
  • neuroticism
  • scar
  • vulnerability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


Dive into the research topics of 'Reciprocal effects of personality and general distress: Neuroticism vulnerability is stronger than scarring.'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this