Personality as modifier of the life change-distress relationship

A longitudinal modelling approach
  • Johan Ormel
  • Roy Stewart
  • Robbert Sanderman


We present a structural equation model of the way in which personality factors may modify the response to changes in life situation, based on two-wave panel data from a random sample of 296 Dutch adults. Three definitions of vulnerability were studied: high neuroticism (N), low self-esteem (SE), and an external locus of control (LC). The multigroup LISREL analysis led to the following conclusions: First, previous symptom level was strongly related to current symptom level. The strength of this relationship was independent of SE and LC but modified by N. Secondly, the impact of life situation changes on distress level was moderately strong and similar to what others have reported. Thirdly, a marked modifier effect was found for neuroticism; responsiveness significantly increased with N level. For SE and LC we observed reduced responsiveness among low vulnerability subjects, but the differences did not reach statistical significance. The implications of the findings are discussed.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Andrews G, Tennant C, Hewson DM (1978) Life event stress, social support, coping style, and risk of psychological impairment. J Nerv Ment Dis 166: 307–315PubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Andriessen JHTH (1974) Veiligheid, een kwestie van motivaties. (Safety, a matter of motivations). Ph.D. Thesis. V.U. AmsterdamGoogle Scholar
  3. Bebbington PE (1986) Establishing causal links. In: Katschnig J. (ed) Life events and psychiatric disorders. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  4. Bebbington PE, Sturt E, Tennant C, Hurry J (1984) Misfortune and resilience: a community study of women. Psychol Med 14: 347–363PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Brown GW, Harris T (1978) Social origins of depression. The Free Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  6. Brown GW, Harris T (1986) Establishing causal links: the Bedford College studies of depression. In: Katsching J (ed) Life events and psychiatric disorders. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  7. Brown GW, Andrews B, Harris T, Adler Z, Bridge L (1986) Social support, self-esteem and depression. Psychol Med 16: 813–831PubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Dean A, Ensel WM (1982) Modelling social support, life events, competence and depression on the context of age and sex. J Community Psychol 10: 392–408Google Scholar
  9. Denny DR, Frisch MB (1981) The role of neuroticism in relation to life stress and illness. J Psychosom Res 25: 303–307Google Scholar
  10. Diener E (1984) Subjective well-being. Psychol Bull 5: 542–575Google Scholar
  11. Dohrenwend BP, Strout PE, Egri G (1980) Nonspecific psychological distress and other dimensions of psychopathology. Arch Gen Psychiatry 37: 1229–1236PubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Duncan-Jones P, Fergusson DM, Ormel J, Horwood LJ (1989) Minor psychiatric illness and trait neuroticism: longitudinal models for three societies. Submitted. SPRU, Australian National University, CamberraGoogle Scholar
  13. Eysenck HJ (1953) The structure of human personality. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  14. Fleishman JA (1984) Personality characteristics and coping patterns. J Health Soc Behav 25: 229–244Google Scholar
  15. Giel R, Horn GHMM ten, Ormel J, Schudel WJ, Wiersma D (1978) Mental illness, neuroticism and life events in a Dutch village sample. Psychol Med 8: 235–243PubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Goldberg DP (1978) Manual of the General Health Questionnaire. NFER, Publishing Company, WindsorGoogle Scholar
  17. Henderson AS, Byrne DG, Duncan-Jones P (1981) Neurosis and the social environment. Academic Press, SydneyGoogle Scholar
  18. Horwood LJ, Fergusson DM (1986) Neuroticism, depression and life events: a structural equation model. Soc Psychiatry 21: 63–71CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Ingham JG, Kreitman NB, Miller P McC, Sashidharan SP, Surtees PG (1986) Self-esteem, vulnerability and psychiatric disorder in the community. Br J Psychiatry 148: 375–385PubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Janis I (1958) Psychological stress. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  21. Johnson JH, Sarason IG (1978) Life stress, depression and anxiety: internal-external control as a moderator variable. J Psychosom Res 22: 205–208CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Jöroskog KG, Sörböm D (1985) LISREL VI user's guide, 2nd edn. Scientific Software, MooresvilleGoogle Scholar
  23. Kessler RC, Price RH, Wortman CB (1985), Social factors in psychopathology: stress, social support and coping processes. Ann Rev Psychol 36: 531–572CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kobasa SC, Maddi SR, Courington S (1981) Personality and constitution as mediators in the stress-illness relationship. J Health Soc Behav 22: 368–378PubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Kobasa SC, Meddi SR, Kahn S (1982) Hardiness and health: a prospective study. J Pers Soc Psychol 42: 168–177PubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Lazarus RS, Folkman S (1984) Stress, appraisal and coping. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New YorkGoogle Scholar
  27. Lin N, Dean A, Ensel WM (eds) (1986) Social support, life events, and depression. Academic Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  28. Luteyn F, Starren I, Dijk H Van (1975) Handleiding bij de NPV. (Manual of Dutch Personality Questionnaire). Swets & Zeitlinger, AmsterdamGoogle Scholar
  29. McCrae RR, Costa PT (1986) Personality coping, and coping effectiveness in an adult sample. J Pers 54: 385–405Google Scholar
  30. McFarlane AH, Norman GR, Streiner DL, Roy RG (1983) The process of social stress: stable, reciprocal and mediating relationships. J Health Soc Behav 24: 160–173PubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Miller P McC, Surtees PG, Kreitman NB, Ingham JG, Sashidharan SP (1985) Maladaptive coping reactions to stress. A study of illness perception. J Nerv Ment Dis 173: 707–714PubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Ormel J (1980) Moeite met leven of een moeilijk leven (Difficulty with living or a difficult life). Ph. D. thesis. University of Groningen. Konstapel, GroningenGoogle Scholar
  33. Parasuraman S, Cleek mA (1984) Coping behaviors and managers' affective reactions to role stressors. J Vocational Behav 24: 179–193Google Scholar
  34. Parkes KR (1986) Coping in stressful episodes: the role of individual differences, environmental factors, and situational characteristics. J Pers Soc Psychol 51: 1277–1292PubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Pearlin LI, Lieberman MA, Menaghan EG, Mullan JT (1981) The stress process. J Health Soc Behav 22: 337–356PubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Plooy-van Gorsel PC (1980) Persbonlijkheid en arousal. (Personality and arousal). Swets & Zeitlinger, LisseGoogle Scholar
  37. Sanderman R (1988) Life events, mediating variables and psychological distress: a longitudinal study. Ph. D thesis, University of Groningen. University Press, GroningenGoogle Scholar
  38. Wheaton BA (1982) A comparison of the moderating effects of personal coping resources on the impact of exposure to stress in two groups. J Community Psychol 10: 293–310Google Scholar
  39. Wilde GJS (1970) Neurotische labiliteit gemeten volgens de vragenlijst methode. (Neuroticism assessed with the self-report method). Van Rossum, AmsterdamGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Johan Ormel
    • 1
    • 3
  • Roy Stewart
    • 2
  • Robbert Sanderman
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Social PsychiatryUniversity of GroningenGronningenthe Netherlands
  2. 2.Department of Environmental HygieneUniversity of GroningenGroningenThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Department of Health SciencesUniversity of GroningenGroningenThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations