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Changes in Neuroticism Following Trauma Exposure


  • This study was funded in part by the National Institute on Aging (R01-AG12458 and 5T32 AG000029-35), the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (R01-HL55356 and P01-HL36587), the National Institute of Mental Health (R01-MH066079), and the Duke Behavioral Medicine Research Center.


Using longitudinal data, the present study examined change in midlife neuroticism following trauma exposure. Our primary analyses included 670 participants (Mage = 60.55; 65.22% male, 99.70% Caucasian) who completed the NEO Personality Inventory at ages 42 and 50 and reported their lifetime exposure to traumatic events approximately 10 years later. No differences in pre- and post-trauma neuroticism scores were found among individuals who experienced all of their lifetime traumas in the interval between the personality assessments. Results were instead consistent with normative age-related declines in neuroticism throughout adulthood. Furthermore, longitudinal changes in neuroticism scores did not differ between individuals with and without histories of midlife trauma exposure. Examination of change in neuroticism following life-threatening traumas yielded a comparable pattern of results. Analysis of facet-level scores largely replicated findings from the domain scores. Overall, our findings suggest that neuroticism does not reliably change following exposure to traumatic events in middle adulthood. Supplemental analyses indicated that individuals exposed to life-threatening traumas in childhood or adolescence reported higher midlife neuroticism than individuals who experienced severe traumas in adulthood. Life-threatening traumatic events encountered early in life may have a more pronounced impact on adulthood personality than recent traumatic events.