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Personality traits modulate emotional and physiological responses to stress

Childs, Emmaa; White, Tara L.b; de Wit, Harrieta

doi: 10.1097/FBP.0000000000000064
Research Reports

An individual’s susceptibility to psychological and physical disorders associated with chronic stress exposure, for example, cardiovascular and infectious disease, may also be predicted by their reactivity to acute stress. One factor associated with both stress resilience and health outcomes is personality. An understanding of how personality influences responses to acute stress may shed light upon individual differences in susceptibility to chronic stress-linked disease. This study examined the relationships between personality and acute responses to stress in 125 healthy adults, using hierarchical linear regression. We assessed personality traits using the Multidimensional Personality Questionnaire (MPQ-BF), and responses to acute stress (cortisol, heart rate, blood pressure, mood) using a standardized laboratory psychosocial stress task, the Trier Social Stress Test. Individuals with high Negative Emotionality exhibited greater emotional distress and lower blood pressure responses to the Trier Social Stress Test. Individuals with high agentic Positive Emotionality exhibited prolonged heart rate responses to stress, whereas those with high communal Positive Emotionality exhibited smaller cortisol and blood pressure responses. Separate personality traits differentially predicted emotional, cardiovascular, and cortisol responses to a psychosocial stressor in healthy volunteers. Future research investigating the association of personality with chronic stress-related disease may provide further clues to the relationship between acute stress reactivity and susceptibility to disease.

aDepartment of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, The University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois

bDepartment of Behavioral and Social Sciences, Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, USA

Correspondence to Emma Childs, PhD, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, The University of Chicago, 5841 S Maryland Ave MC3077, Chicago, IL 60637, USA E-mail:

Received January 14, 2014

Accepted June 9, 2014

© 2014 Wolters Kluwer Health | Lippincott Williams & Wilkins