Neuroticism is a personality dimension of the Big Five model, together with extraversion (or extroversion), agreeableness, openness, and conscientiousness. 

Its origins can be traced back to Freud’s ideas of neurosis, but the concept of neuroticism has now completely distanced itself from its roots. Instead of a psychological disorder, nowadays it reflects only a personality trait, although it retains a component related to anxiety and depressed moods.

Neuroticism is the only dimension of the Big Five centered on negative personality traits. Individuals with high levels of neuroticism tend to be emotionally unstable and to experience negative emotions, such as anxiety, depression, and sadness.1

What does Neuroticism entail?

Neuroticism is a personality dimension that reflects the tendency to experience negative emotions and to perceive the world and the self as threatening and harmful. 

High levels of neuroticism often translate into emotional instability. The individuals are more likely to experience mood swings and are more prone to suffer from stress, anxiety, and depression.2  They tend to perceive frustrations as overwhelming, interpret most situations as threatening and hopeless, and have difficulty coping with stressful situations.3

People with low levels of neuroticism, on the other hand, tend to be emotionally stable. They are self-assured, calm, pleasant, and have the tendency to establish positive social relationships. 

Their calm and certain personality also helps them complete tasks successfully, even when faced with obstacles and difficulties. They are also relaxed while maintaining complete self-control.4

High Neuroticism: good or bad?

Unlike other dimensions of the Big Five personality model that offer positive and negative traits more or less balanced, high neuroticism values are generally associated with disadvantages. High levels of neuroticism have been linked to an array of health problems and are at a greater risk for mental disorders.5 

Highly neurotic individuals are anxious, unstable and unsure, tense and withdrawn. They tend to perceive the world as unsafe, distressing, and threatening. In practice, this means that they are more likely to interpret a critic or a suggestion as an insult or a reproach, they tend to blame themselves for any misfortune they might encounter and, because they doubt their own abilities, they might feel ashamed of themselves.

However, when not at an extreme level, neurotic individuals can benefit from their personality traits in the sense that they are more cautious in evaluating risks, and have a more realistic approach to the world.

People with low neuroticism values are the opposite of those with a high score. They are confident in their skills, self-assured, have a positive attitude towards themselves and the world, and tend to have solid self-esteem.

Low scorers tend to manage stress well and are not affected by negative occurrences, but rather face them in a relaxed manner. 

High Neuroticism

Strongest traits

The downsides

  • Irritable and aggressive
  • Pessimist
  • Anxious
  • Low self-esteem
  • Emotional instability
  • Has difficulty coping with stress
  • Tends to perceive uneventful situations as threatening
  • Doubts their abilities and skills and, as a consequence, is perceived as unreliable by others
  • Prone to feel negative emotions (anger, depression, guilt)


Low Neuroticism

Strongest traits

The downsides

  • Calm and relaxed
  • Emotional stability
  • Optimist
  • Self-assured
  • Confident
  • High self-esteem
  • Responds well to stress and unforeseen and unfortunate events
  • Pleasant
  • Too much optimism can blind them to certain risks.


Neuroticism in a work context

Neuroticism is generally inversely related to job performance. Highly neurotic individuals tend to display erratic behavior, are less able to control impulses, have difficulty coping with stress, and perform poorer than their less neurotic counterparts overall.6 The fact that they lack self-esteem and confidence in their skills can also result in their peers seeing them as unreliable or incapable. 

Nevertheless, there are certain circumstances in an organizational context in which being neurotic can be positive. Highly anxious individuals are more likely to be overall better prepared for an event, a particular situation, or a task because they are more aware of all the things that can go wrong. This better preparation can also derive from their self-doubt - they believe they do not have the right abilities to do something and try to improve them.7

Their pessimistic nature and the feeling of constant threat also tend to make them good at risk assessment and at planning ahead to avoid or overcome any predictable obstacle.

On the opposite side of the spectrum are the workers with a low degree of neuroticism. They tend to have a calm and relaxed demeanor and to come up with positive strategies and solutions for problems. 

A mishap or an unforeseen event does not affect them personally. Instead, they look at it from an optimistic perspective and prefer to learn from it rather than letting it affect their spirit and self-esteem. They are also more open to criticism and suggestions.

What careers suit people with high and low Neuroticism?

Neuroticism is only a single dimension within the greater concept of personality. The personality is not defined by one dimension but rather through the combination of all the dimensions and their respective sub-traits. 

Neuroticism reflects more of an attitude towards life and work, unlike other dimensions that can be a predictor of certain skills, aptitudes, and interests. This is to say that the best careers for individuals who score high in neuroticism depend on their other personality traits. 

Nevertheless, highly neurotic individuals seem to do particularly well in careers with a steady flow of work and in which unexpected situations are less likely to occur. Jobs with a calm environment also suit these individuals, as they are less prone to stressful and anxiety-inducing situations.

Some examples of jobs for high neuroticism scorers include: florist, writer, archivist, or librarian.

The best careers and jobs for individuals with low neuroticism usually involve situations of crisis. 

Due to their calm and positive demeanor, they can respond well and quickly to unforeseen events. Their emotional stability combined with their confidence also results in a highly adaptive personality.

Potential good jobs for low neuroticism scorers include: firefighter, police officer, and diplomat.


1 Widiger, T. A., & Oltmanns, J. R. (2017). Neuroticism is a fundamental domain of personality with enormous public health implications. World psychiatry: official journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), 16(2), 144–145.

2 Watson, D. (2001), Neuroticism. In Smelser, Neil J. and Baltes, Paul B. (Eds.), International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences. Pergamon; Borders, Ashley (2020), Rumination and Related Constructs - Causes, Consequences, and Treatment of Thinking Too Much. Academic Press.

3 Widiger, T. A., & Oltmanns, J. R., 2017

4 Beus, J., Dhanani, L., & McCord, M. (2014). A meta-analysis of personality and workplace safety: addressing unanswered questions. The Journal of Applied Psychology, 100(2), 481-498. doi:10.1037/a0037916

5 Wiebe, Deborah J. et al (2018), What Mechanisms Explain the Links Between Personality and Health?. In Johansen, C. (Ed.), Personality and Disease - Scientific Proof vs. Wishful Thinking. Academic Press.; Ormel, Johan et al. (2013). Neuroticism and Common Mental Disorders: Meaning and Utility of a Complex Relationship. Clinical psychology review. 33. 686-697. 10.1016/j.cpr.2013.04.003; Weed, Nathan & Kwon, Sangil. (2007). Neuroticism. In Baumeister, Roy F. & Vohs, Kathleen D. (Eds.), Encyclopedia of social psychology. Sage

6 ​​Rothmann, S. & Coetzer, E. P. (2003), The Big Five personality dimensions and job performance. SA Journal of Industrial Psychology, 2003, 29 (1), 68-74

7 Slaughter, J.E. and Kausel, E.E. (2009), The neurotic employee: Theoretical analysis of the influence of narrow facets of neuroticism on cognitive, social, and behavioral processes relevant to job performance. In Martocchio, J.J. and Liao, H. (Ed.), Research in Personnel and Human Resources Management (Research in Personnel and Human Resources Management, Vol. 28), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 265-341.