Neuroticism is the increased tendency to experience negative emotions, especially when confronted with threat, frustration or loss. As a construct it refer to negative affects (anxiety, irritability, anger, worry), self- consciousness, frustration, reactivity, vulnerability, hostility, sensitivity to criticism of others etc.Eysenck Personality Questionnaire is used to measure neuroticism. Neuroticism is associated with an increase in various mental and physical disorders.
Telomeres are the end caps of chromosomes and promote the chromosomal stability. Shortening of telomeres is related to the process of cellular ageing.psychosocial stress is associated with shorter telomere length .
Two recent cross-sectional studies have shown that personality traits like hostility (Brydon et al. 2011) and pessimism (O’Donovan et al. 2009) is associated with shorter TL.
Can neuroticism lead to shortening of telomeres?
van Ockenburg SL, de Jonge P, van der Harst P, Ormel J and Rosmalen JG prospectively studied the effect of neuroticism on TL in a large population-based cohort.(Part of the PREVEND study with 40656 respondents). Baseline screening was completed in 1998 (T1), followed by two follow-up visits at 4.2 (T2) and 6.4 (T3) years from baseline.
Participants completed the 12-item neuroticism scale of the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire – Revised Short Scale. Telomere Length was measured in leukocytes in triplicate and the average of the three runs was used to provide the mean relative measure of TL.Covariates studied included body mass index ,smoking ,frequency of sports,presence of a chronic disease and level of education.
The sum score of neuroticism symptoms remained a significant predictor of telomere attrition after adjusting for covariates.
It is possible that Telomere shortening is part of the mechanism by which neuroticism leads to increased mortality rates. (via chromosomal instability and cell senescence). It is also possible that exposure to other shared risk factors, such as the amount of lifetime oxidative stress exposure and genetic vulnerability for psychosocial stress could be alternative explanations. Neuroticism could be associated with exposure to more psychosocial stress and increased glucocorticoid exposure.This might be a mediating factor in the observed association.
Limitations: As in prospective population studies,cohort attrition is a limitation: 17% did not attend any of the follow up visits and had only baseline data available.
Conclusion: Neuroticism is associated with telomere shortening over a period of time.This is the first prospective large population-based study showing that neuroticism is significantly associated with shorter TL over time.
van Ockenburg SL, de Jonge P, van der Harst P, Ormel J, Rosmalen JG. Psychol Med. 2014 Mar;44(4):723-9