Psychological Medicine

Original Articles

Genetic contribution to the relationship between personality and depressive symptoms among older women

I. Pakkalaa1 c1, S. Reada2, J. Kaprioa3a4, M. Koskenvuoa3, M. Kauppinena1 and T. Rantanena1

a1 Finnish Centre for Interdisciplinary Gerontology, University of Jyväskylä, Finland

a2 London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK

a3 Department of Public Health, University of Helsinki, Finland

a4 Department of Mental Health and Alcohol Research, National Public Health Institute, Finland


Background Prior studies suggest that certain types of personality are at higher risk for developing depressive disorders. This study examined the relationship between old age depressive symptoms and two middle-age personality dimensions, neuroticism and extraversion.

Method The present study is part of the Finnish Twin Study on Aging, where altogether 409 female twins who had completed the Eysenck Personality Inventory at the age of 38–51 years were studied for depressive symptoms 28 years later using Center for the Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale. Logistic regression analysis suitable for dependent data and univariate and Cholesky models for decomposing the genetic and environmental factor were used.

Results Middle age extraversion protected from later depressive symptoms while neuroticism increased the risk. Twin modeling indicated that the association between neuroticism and depressive symptoms resulted from shared genetic risk factors common to both traits. However, a substantial proportion of the genetic vulnerability was specific to old age depressive symptoms and was not shared with neuroticism. Middle age extraversion had no genetic relationship with old age depressive symptoms.

Conclusions The relationship between middle age neuroticism and old age depressive symptoms is strong but only partly the result of genetic factors that predispose to both neuroticism and depressive symptoms. Extraversion, by contrast, has no genetic relationship with depressive symptoms experienced in old age.

(Received January 12 2009)

(Revised August 06 2009)

(Accepted August 17 2009)

(Online publication October 08 2009)


c1 Address for correspondence: I. Pakkala, M.Sc., Finnish Centre for Interdisciplinary Gerontology, University of Jyväskylä, P.O. Box 35 (Viveca), FIN-40014 University of Jyväskylä, Finland. (Email: