The relationship among personality variables, exposure to traumatic events, and severity of posttraumatic stress symptoms


  • This manuscript was part of the first author's doctoral dissertation. The authors would like to thank Rebecca Davis Merritt, Ph.D., E. J. Capaldi, Ph.D., and Eliott Smith, Ph.D., for their thoughtful feedback on early versions. Portions of this manuscript have been presented at the 8th annual conference of the American Psychological Society and at the 12th annual conference of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies.


In examining predictors of posttraumatic stress, researchers have focused on trauma intensity and devoted less attention to other variables. This study examined how personality and demographic variables are related to the likelihood of experiencing a trauma, and to the severity of posttraumatic symptoms in a sample of 402 college students reporting a wide range of trauma. Elevations in antisocial and borderline traits were significant predictors of retraumatization, accounting for 12% of the variance. Personality variables and trauma intensity were significant predictors of PTSD severity, accounting for 43% of the variance. Neuroticism interacted with trauma intensity in predicting Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) severity. Among persons low in Neuroticism, there was a modest trauma intensity—PTSD relationship, whereas among persons high in neuroticism there was a strong relationship.