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Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2006 May;40(5):482-90.

Childhood adversity and adult personality.

Author information

  • 1Centre for Mental Health Research, Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia. sjr@netspeed.com.au

Abstract

OBJECTIVES:

To explore how recalled childhood adversity affects trait measures of personality in three age cohorts of an Australian adult population and to examine the effects of particular adversities on adult personality traits.

METHOD:

A total of 7485 randomly selected subjects in the age bands of 20-24, 40-44 and 60-64 years were interviewed at the outset of a longitudinal community study of psychological health in the Canberra region of Australia. In the initial interview, subjects answered 17 questions about domestic adversity and three questions on positive aspects of upbringing to age 16 years. Personality traits were measured by Eysenck Personality Questionnaire, Behavioural Activation and Inhibition Scales, Positive and Negative Affect Scales and a measure of dissocial behaviours.

RESULTS:

Higher levels of childhood adversity substantially increase the risk of high neuroticism (OR = 2.6) and negative affect (OR = 2.6), less for behavioural inhibition (OR = 1.7) and for dissocial behaviour (OR = 1.7). No significant effect is seen for extraversion, psychoticism or behavioural activation. Age and gender had little effect on the pattern of risk. Maternal depression has significant and substantial independent effects on measures of neuroticism and negative affect as well as most other measures of personality.

CONCLUSION:

Childhood domestic adversity has substantial associations with clinically important aspects of personality: neuroticism and negative affect. Only small effects are seen on behavioural inhibition and dissocial behaviour, and no significant effect on extraversion and behavioural activation. These unexpected findings contradict clinical belief. Maternal psychological ill-health is pre-eminent among adversities predicting later disadvantageous traits, even for those traits that had only the slightest association with childhood adversity. Consequences of childhood adversity prevail throughout the lifespan in men and women equally. The study underlines the importance of childhood domestic adversity and especially maternal psychological ill-health as a target for preventive intervention for psychological difficulties at all ages.

PMID:
16683976
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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