Personality and the Problems of Everyday Life: The Role of Neuroticism In Exposure and Reactivity to Daily Stressors


  • This work was supported in part by Grants 5-R01-MH41135, awarded by the National Institute for Mental Health, and BRSG 2 SO7 RR07138-18, awarded by the Biomedical Research Support Grant Program, National Institutes of Health. We are indebted to Kim Nordquist for research assistance. We are also indebted to editors Howard Tennen, Jerry Suls, and Glenn Affleck, and to Daryl Bem, James Coyne, Steven Cornelius, Geraldine Downey, Harry Gollob, Chuck Henderson, Ron Kessler, Jane Olson, Chris Peterson, and two anonymous reviewers for comments on earlier drafts of this article.

concerning this article should be addressed to Niall Bolger, who is now at the Department of Psychology, New York University, 6 Washington Place, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10003.


ABSTRACT This article investigates mechanisms through which neuroticism leads to distress in daily life. Neuroticism may lead to distress through exposing people to a greater number of stressful events, through increasing their reactivity to those events, or through a mechanism unrelated to environmental events. This article evaluates the relative importance of these three explanations. Subjects were 339 persons who provided daily reports of minor stressful events and mood for 6 weeks. Exposure and reactivity to these minor stressors explained over 40% of the distress difference between high- and low-neuroticism subjects. Reactivity to stressors accounted for twice as much of the distress difference as exposure to stressors. These results suggest that reactions within stressful situations are more important than situation selection in explaining how neuroticism leads to distress in daily life.