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Psychol Med. 1997 Mar;27(2):355-62.

Pre-morbid psychometric profile of subjects at high familial risk for affective disorder.

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  • 1Clinical Institute, Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, Munich, Germany.



Recent observations indicate that a certain pre-morbid personality profile ('autonomic lability', i.e. elevated neuroticism, frequent somatic complaints and increased interpersonal sensitivity) appears to be a valid antecedent of major depression. However, most of these prospective studies used samples drawn from the general population, which limits the power of any observed differences between subjects who developed a depressive disorder during the follow-up period and those who did not.


We investigated the psychometric profile of 54 high-risk probands (aged between 18 years and 45 years) without a current or lifetime diagnosis of any psychiatric disorder, but who had first-degree relatives with an affective disorder according to DSM-III-R criteria. Twenty-two control probands, matched for age and gender and without any personal or family history of psychiatric disorders, served as the reference group.


As a group, the high-risk probands scored higher than the controls on scales that assessed neuroticism, rigidity, depressive cognitions, vegetative lability and stress. With an individual-orientated approach (cluster analysis), 30 high-risk probands were identified as conspicuous, characterized by elevated rigidity and increased 'autonomic lability'. The remaining 24 high-risk probands showed a psychometric profile very similar to that of the controls.


The present findings in 54 probands at high risk for affective disorders not only strongly underline the assumption that the personality trait 'autonomic lability' is a valid antecedent of at least major depression, but also add the personality trait 'rigidity' as a further and potential candidate for a true vulnerability marker for affective disorders.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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