1.5 Temperament, personality and heritability
Some people seem to have easy-going temperaments and to remain unruffled by the kinds of events or situations that leave others tense and fraught, or upset and tearful. Responses to life events, and differences in cognitive interpretation of negative events, have therefore been linked to personality factors (Hirschfeld and Shea, 1992). Here, personality is understood to mean a person’s attitudes and beliefs as well as aspects of temperament which can be very stable. The topic of ‘trait anxiety’ is discussed in the related OpenLearn course.
There is evidence that personality traits are associated with affective and anxiety disorders. For instance neuroticism, the tendency to be emotionally unstable, predisposes to anxiety and depression, while having an easy-going temperament seems to protect against depression (Clark et al., 1994). Also, there is evidence that those who are very dependent on the approval of others, need to maintain tight control of everything, are impulsive or easily angered, cope less effectively with stressors.
All these personality characteristics may result in situations that make life even worse – think of the young man who is quick to anger and assaults a traffic warden who is giving him a parking ticket. He may end up in court, his own actions having landed him in a yet more stressful situation. Thus personality factors have the potential to mediate the relationship between stress and the development of emotional disorders.