The Origins of Neuroticism

David H. Barlow, Kristen K. Ellard, Shannon Sauer-Zavala, Jacqueline R. Bullis, Jenna R. Carl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

256 Scopus citations


In this article, we provide a fresh perspective on the developmental origins of neuroticism—a dimension of temperament marked by elevated stress reactivity resulting in the frequent experience of negative emotions. This negative affectivity is accompanied by a pervasive perception that the world is a dangerous and threatening place, along with beliefs about one’s inability to manage or cope with challenging events. Historically, neuroticism has been viewed as a stable, genetically based trait. However, recent understanding of ongoing gene–environment interactions that occur throughout the life span suggests there may be a more complex and dynamic etiology. Thus, the purpose of this article is to offer a theory for understanding the development of neuroticism that integrates genetic, neurobiological, and environmental contributions to this trait. Given the strong correlation between neuroticism and the development of negative health outcomes—most notably, the full range of anxiety and mood disorders—an enhanced understanding of how neuroticism originates has implications for the treatment and prevention of a broad range of pathologies and, perhaps, even for the prevention of neuroticism itself.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)481-496
Number of pages16
JournalPerspectives on Psychological Science
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2014.


  • neuroticism
  • temperament

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology (all)


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