Impact of temperament on depression and anxiety symptoms and depressive disorder in a population-based birth cohort

J Affect Disord. 2011 Jun;131(1-3):393-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2010.12.008.


Background: The aim of this study was to characterize at the population level how innate features of temperament relate to experience of depressive mood and anxiety, and whether these symptoms have separable temperamental backgrounds.

Methods: The study subjects were 4773 members of the population-based Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1966, a culturally and genetically homogeneous study sample. Temperament was measured at age 31 using the temperament items of the Temperament and Character Inventory and a separate Pessimism score. Depressive mood was assessed based on a previous diagnosis of depressive disorder or symptoms of depression according to the Hopkins Symptom Check List - 25. Anxiety was assessed analogously.

Results: High levels of Harm avoidance and Pessimism were related to both depressive mood (effect sizes; d=0.84 and d=1.25, respectively) and depressive disorder (d=0.68 and d=0.68, respectively). Of the dimensions of Harm avoidance, Anticipatory worry and Fatigability had the strongest effects. Symptoms of depression and anxiety showed very similar underlying temperament patterns.

Limitations: Although Harm avoidance and Pessimism appear to be important endophenotype candidates for depression and anxiety, their potential usefulness as endophenotypes, and whether they meet all the suggested criteria for endophenotypes will remain to be confirmed in future studies.

Conclusions: Personality characteristics of Pessimism and Harm avoidance, in particular its dimensions Anticipatory worry and Fatigability, are strongly related to symptoms of depression and anxiety as well as to depressive disorder in this population. These temperamental features may be used as dimensional susceptibility factors in etiological studies of depression, which may aid in the development of improved clinical practice.

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Personality Inventory
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Temperament*