Personality and physiological reactions to acute psychological stress



Bibbey A, Carroll D, Roseboom TJ, Phillips AC & de Rooij SR (2013) Personality and physiological reactions to acute psychological stress. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 90 (1), pp. 28-36.

Stable personality traits have long been presumed to have biological substrates, although the evidence relating personality to biological stress reactivity is inconclusive. The present study examined, in a large middle aged cohort (N = 352), the relationship between key personality traits and both cortisol and cardiovascular reactions to acute psychological stress. Salivary cortisol and cardiovascular activity were measured at rest and in response to a psychological stress protocol comprising 5 min each of a Stroop task, mirror tracing, and a speech task. Participants subsequently completed the Big Five Inventory to assess neuroticism, agree-ableness, openness to experience, extraversion, and conscientiousness. Those with higher neuroticism scores exhibited smaller cortisol and cardiovascular stress reactions, whereas participants who were less agreeable and less open had smaller cortisol and cardiac reactions to stress. These associations remained statistically significant following adjustment for a range of potential confounding variables. Thus, a negative personality disposition would appear to be linked to diminished stress reactivity. These findings further support a growing body of evidence which suggests that blunted stress reactivity may be maladaptive.

Acute stress; Agreeableness; Cardiovascular activity; Cortisol; Neuroticism; Openness

International Journal of Psychophysiology: Volume 90, Issue 1

FundersEuropean Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007–2013), Netherlands Heart Foundation, European Science Foundation (Eurostress), Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research, BRAINAGE FP7 and Economic and Social Research Council, UK
Publication date31/10/2013
Publication date online09/11/2012
Date accepted by journal31/10/2012
PublisherElsevier BV

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Professor Anna Whittaker

Professor Anna Whittaker

Professor of Behavioural Medicine, Sport