Psychological Medicine

Original Articles

Neuroticism and post-traumatic stress disorder: a prospective investigation

N. Breslaua1 c1 and L. Schultza2

a1 Michigan State University, College of Human Medicine, East Lansing, MI, USA

a2 Department of Public Health Sciences, Henry Ford Health System, Detroit, MI, USA


Background Neuroticism has been consistently correlated with the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) response to traumatic events. Interpretation of these findings is limited by the retrospective nature of these findings: neuroticism was measured after the trauma had occurred. The prospective association of neuroticism with PTSD has not been examined (the relationship of neuroticism with PTSD symptoms was examined in a few prospective studies). We evaluate prospectively the relationship of neuroticism, measured at baseline, with the cumulative occurrence of PTSD during the subsequent 10 years, using data from a longitudinal epidemiological study of young adults.

Method A sample of 1007 young adults randomly selected from the membership of a large health maintenance organization in southeast Michigan was assessed at baseline and followed up at 3, 5 and 10 years later. We conducted a series of multinomial logistic regressions to estimate the relative risk (RR) of exposure to trauma and PTSD by neuroticism at baseline, adjusting for history of major depression (n = 990).

Results During the 10-year follow-up, 50.2% of the sample experienced traumatic events and 5.2% developed PTSD. Neuroticism score at baseline increased significantly the RR of PTSD response to trauma. Additional analysis revealed that, among persons with history of major depression at baseline, RR for PTSD associated with neuroticism was equal to the null value of 1, but was increased significantly among those with no history of major depression.

Conclusions The results confirm the role of neuroticism as diathesis in the PTSD response to traumatic experiences.

(Received September 12 2012)

(Revised October 17 2012)

(Accepted October 19 2012)

(Online publication November 30 2012)

Key words

  • Neuroticism;
  • post-traumatic stress disorder;
  • prospective studies


c1 Address for correspondence: N. Breslau, Ph.D., Department of Epidemiology, Michigan State University, College of Human Medicine, B645 West Fee Hall, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA. (Email: