What is neuroticism?
People tend to think this means that someone is crazy, but there’s a lot more to neuroticism than you might think. Neuroticism is one of the “big five” personality traits that everyone has, along with Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, and Agreeableness. Every one of these traits is a spectrum, and they all determine how you react to the situations you encounter in life.
People in different countries generally have a dominant personality trait from this group, since like-minded people tend to cluster together, and no single trait is proven to be better in any way. Our personalities are influenced by both our genes and our environment. This means that neuroticism, just like the other traits, is not a bad thing on its own.
It’s important to be aware, though, that a genetic tendency toward high neuroticism, coupled with the right environment, increases a person’s risk for some psychiatric disorders. These can include depression, substance abuse, and schizophrenia.
How does our DNA influence how neurotic we are?
Certain genes in our DNA have been linked to a tendency for higher neuroticism. A 2016 genome-wide association study (GWAS) in Molecular Psychiatry discovered nine different places in the genome that could play a part, spread out over many chromosomes and genetic regions. This means that no single gene influences how neurotic our personalities are, and the influences of all these genes may play a role.
The new study in 2016 study looked at the genetic results of over 106,000 people, combining information from multiple previous studies to get a wide variety of reputable data. Surprisingly, even though there are many places in our genome that can contribute to the trait, only about 15% of neuroticism is determined by genetics.
I don’t think I’m neurotic at all, but my DNA results suggest I am. What’s going on?
There’s a big difference between being neurotic and having a tendency toward having a neurotic personality. Everyone’s genome is structured in basically the same way, so everyone has the nine regions we mentioned earlier that can make someone more neurotic.
If you have a certain genetic variant in one or more of these genes, that means that you have a higher tendency toward having a neurotic personality. It doesn’t automatically mean that you are neurotic, will be neurotic, or have a psychological disorder of any kind. It also does not increase your risk factors for mental illness.
I’d like to become less neurotic. Is this transformation possible even though my DNA suggests that I’m predisposed to being neurotic?
Absolutely! Since only 15% of neuroticism is influenced by genetics, that leaves 85% which is influenced by our environment. That means we can take purposeful steps to make our environment one that won’t make our tendencies toward neuroticism a reality. Further, one study is not a meta-analysis of many studies. In short, the results of this one study do not capture the entire population of Earth and how these traits develop in real life.
We can keep the internal environment of our bodies healthy by learning how to cope with stress in our external environment. It’s impossible to eliminate stress entirely, but dealing with it in a healthy way is vital to managing neuroticism. Genetic data is just one way to see what you might be up against.
Research on genes connected with mental health and wellbeing can sometimes be difficult because different psychological conditions sometimes have the same symptoms. The exact place where neuroticism as a personality trait overlaps with neuroticism as a psychiatric disorder is not well understood, and it can vary widely between people.
More research is necessary to determine how we can correctly diagnose that overlap. The genetic regions identified in the 2016 study may also be helpful in research on depression since the study found a strong link between depression and specific genetic loci in those regions.
Find out what your DNA says
Even if your genes say that you have a tendency toward neuroticism, it doesn’t mean that you are now, or ever will be in the future. It does, however, mean that you can take purposeful steps to reduce your risk of neuroticism. Knowing that you can do something to help yourself is the most empowering first step you can take. Check your genetic predisposition for neuroticism on Genomelink, and take control of your genes.