Neurotic people are more likely to suffer from mood swings

Neurotic people experience negative emotions, not only more intensely.


Our emotions may vary from moment to moment in daily life, and everyone is different in how much this happens to them. The personality attribute neuroticism, a significant risk factor for mental illness, has baffled psychologists as to how it contributes to such emotional fluctuation. Do those who be neurotic have more variable bad emotions in addition to stronger negative emotions? This subject has generated some debate because it is methodologically difficult to distinguish between the effects of neuroticism on mean emotion and its impacts on variability.

Psychologists at Leipzig University have investigated the connection between emotional experiences and the personality attribute neuroticism, which has been linked to a higher risk of mental illness. They discovered that neurotic individuals feel negative emotions more intensely and frequently than non-neurotic individuals.

There is consensus among previous studies that neurotics have more intense negative feelings in daily life. There has been debate about whether this is also linked to higher emotional variability or mood swings due to recent contradicting studies.

The first author, Nina Mader from the Wilhelm Wundt Institute of Psychology at Leipzig University, said, “We use an approach from Bayesian statistics that allows additional flexibility in data modeling. We successfully tested this approach in simulations and re-examined 13 longitudinal data sets. The results suggest that neurotic people experience greater variability in negative emotions.”

A total of 2,518 people were asked about their emotions.

Negative emotions are felt more intensely and frequently by those with high neuroticism levels compared to those with average or lower values. They are more likely to engage in self-criticism, respond less favorably to criticism from others, and have sentiments of “not being good enough.” 

Studies show that neuroticism levels peak in late adolescence, fall throughout maturity, and stabilize. In addition, neuroticism scores are greater in women and those with poor socioeconomic positions than in the general population.

Mader said, “While negative emotions occur very rarely in the everyday lives of people with low neuroticism scores, people with high neuroticism scores report significantly more negative emotions in everyday life. This is typically associated with a disproportionate reaction to triggering circumstances. For example, a minor difference of opinion could cause great anger in the latter, or even the mere thought that the train might be very crowded today could cause intense stress and worry.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Nina Mader, RUben Arslan et al. Emotional (in)stability: Neuroticism is associated with increased variability in negative emotion. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2212154120


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