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Emotion. 2007 Aug;7(3):579-91.

Neurotic contentment: a self-regulation view of neuroticism-linked distress.

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Psychology Department, North Dakota State University, Fargo, ND, USA.


The present hypotheses were guided by four premises, which were systematically examined in six studies involving 409 undergraduate participants. The first premise, established by prior work, is that trait neuroticism is closely associated with avoidance-related goals. The second premise, however, is that neuroticism may be uncorrelated with cognitive tendencies to recognize threats as they occur, and subsequently to down-regulate them. In support of this point, all six studies found that neuroticism was unrelated to post-error behavioral adjustments in choice reaction time. The third premise is that post-error reactivity would nonetheless predict individual differences in threat-recognition (Studies 1 and 2) and its apparent mitigation (Study 3), independently of trait neuroticism. These predictions were supported. The fourth premise is that individual differences in neuroticism and error-reactivity would interact with each other in predicting everyday experiences of distress. In support of such predictions, Studies 4-6 found that higher levels of error-reactivity were associated with less negative affect at high levels of neuroticism, but more negative affect at low levels of neuroticism. The findings are interpreted in terms of trait-cognition self-regulation principles.

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