Articulation and testing of a personality-centred model of psychopathology: evidence from a longitudinal community study over 30 years

  • Michael P. HengartnerEmail author
  • Peter Tyrer
  • Vladeta Ajdacic-Gross
  • Jules Angst
  • Wulf Rössler
Original Paper


Advances in psychopathological research advocate a personality-centred model of common mental disorders (CMD). We tested four hypotheses to test such a model. First, personality relates to critical life events; second, both personality and critical life events relate to CMD; third, interaction effects between personality and critical life events relate to CMD; fourth, neuroticism explains the majority of variance in psychopathology. We analysed data (n = 453) based on seven semi-structured interviews from a longitudinal epidemiologic cohort study over 30 years spanning years 1979 (age 20) to 2008 (age 50). CMD and critical life events were assessed seven times between 1979 and 2008 and personality domains of neuroticism, extraversion and aggressiveness in 1988 and 1993. Aggressiveness and neuroticism related to partnership rupture and job loss. Neuroticism related significantly to major depression, anxiety disorders, substance-use disorders (SUD) and severity of psychopathology. Both partnership rupture and job loss related to major depression and severity of psychopathology, but not to anxiety disorder or SUD. An interaction effect between neuroticism and partnership rupture pointed towards significantly increased SUD prevalence. All associations held when additionally adjusted for childhood adversity and familial socio-economic status. According to a pseudo-R 2, neuroticism explained 51% of total variance in severity of psychopathology over time, while all three personality domains along with both partnership rupture and job loss explained 59% of total variance. In conclusion, personality, especially neuroticism, relates consistently to repeated measures of psychopathology. These associations are independent of and more pervasive than the effects of partnership rupture and job loss. Partnership rupture in interaction with neuroticism may further increase the risk for SUD. We conclude that neuroticism is a fundamental aetiological factor for severe psychopathology, but further testing of this model in other longitudinal studies is required.


Personality Internalising disorder Psychopathology Etiology Epidemiology Depression Anxiety Critical life events 



This work was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (Grant Number 32-50881.97).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest


Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 28 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael P. Hengartner
    • 1
    Email author
  • Peter Tyrer
    • 2
  • Vladeta Ajdacic-Gross
    • 3
  • Jules Angst
    • 3
  • Wulf Rössler
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of Applied PsychologyZurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW)ZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.Centre for PsychiatryImperial CollegeLondonUK
  3. 3.Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and PsychosomaticsUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  4. 4.Institute of Psychiatry, Laboratory of Neuroscience (LIM 27)University of Sao PauloSão PauloBrazil
  5. 5.Department of Psychiatry and PsychotherapyCharité – Universitätsmedizin BerlinBerlinGermany

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