Genetic contributions to two special factors of neuroticism are associated with affluence, higher intelligence, better health, and longer life

Mol Psychiatry. 2020 Nov;25(11):3034-3052. doi: 10.1038/s41380-019-0387-3. Epub 2019 Mar 13.


Higher scores on the personality trait of neuroticism, the tendency to experience negative emotions, are associated with worse mental and physical health. Studies examining links between neuroticism and health typically operationalize neuroticism by summing the items from a neuroticism scale. However, neuroticism is made up of multiple heterogeneous facets, each contributing to the effect of neuroticism as a whole. A recent study showed that a 12-item neuroticism scale described one broad trait of general neuroticism and two special factors, one characterizing the extent to which people worry and feel vulnerable, and the other characterizing the extent to which people are anxious and tense. This study also found that, although individuals who were higher on general neuroticism lived shorter lives, individuals whose neuroticism was characterized by worry and vulnerability lived longer lives. Here, we examine the genetic contributions to the two special factors of neuroticism-anxiety/tension and worry/vulnerability-and how they contrast with that of general neuroticism. First, we show that, whereas the polygenic load for neuroticism is associated with the genetic risk of coronary artery disease, lower intelligence, lower socioeconomic status (SES), and poorer self-rated health, the genetic variants associated with high levels of anxiety/tension, and high levels of worry/vulnerability are associated with genetic variants linked to higher SES, higher intelligence, better self-rated health, and longer life. Second, we identify genetic variants that are uniquely associated with these protective aspects of neuroticism. Finally, we show that different neurological pathways are linked to each of these neuroticism phenotypes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anxiety / genetics
  • Economic Status*
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Health*
  • Humans
  • Intelligence / genetics*
  • Longevity / genetics*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuroticism*