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Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2011 Feb;19(2):123-31.

Social support modifies the relationship between personality and depressive symptoms in older adults.

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  • 1College of Arts and Sciences, Emory University.



To explore the relationship between personality, social support, and depression in older adults, identify the personality trait and social support dimension most closely associated with depression, and determine whether the relationship between personality and depression varies by level of social support.


Cross-sectional analysis within longitudinal study.


Older patients originally diagnosed with major depression (n = 108) and never-depressed comparison group of older adults (n = 103).


Patients sufficiently recovered from major depression and comparison participants were administered the NEO Personality Inventory. Social support was measured annually for both groups. Patients were administered the Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS) every 3 months.


Patients and comparison participants differed on four of the five NEO domains and all four social support dimensions, but personality did not significantly predict depression status (patient/comparison) in controlled analyses. Within the patient group, subjective social support was the only dimension correlated with MADRS score. In separate linear regression analyses among the patients, controlling for age, sex, and subjective social support, the domains of Neuroticism, Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, and Extraversion were associated with MADRS score. For Neuroticism and Openness, the association varied by level of subjective social support.


Our research confirmed that older patients differed from never-depressed older adults in dimensions of personality and social support, and the relationship between these variables differed by depression status. The relationship between personality, social support, and depressive symptoms in older adults recovering from depression is also complex, with subjective social support modifying the association between personality and depression.

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