Mindfulness Training Benefits Neurotic Individuals the Most
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Do you have neurotic tendencies? You might give mindfulness a try. The practice has been shown to help quell the voice of the “obnoxious roommate” in your head. One of the “Big Five” personality traits, neuroticism is characterized by negative affect, rumination on the past and worry about the future, moodiness and loneliness. Practicing mindfulness may be a powerful way for people to detach from common characteristics of neuroticism, including obsessive negative thoughts and worries, and challenges regulating one’s emotions and behavior.” – Carolyn Gregoire
We know that people differ in how they interact with the environment and other people. We call these differences personality. Personality characteristics are thought to be relatively permanent traits that form an individual’s distinctive character. Different personalities predict different behaviors and different responses to the environment. This suggests that different personality types might respond differently to mindfulness training.
Current psychological research and theorization on personality has suggested that there are five basic personality characteristics. The so called “Big 5” are Extraversion, Agreeableness, Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, and Neuroticism. Extraversion involves engagement with the external world, particularly other people. Agreeableness involves trust and helpfulness and a positive temperament. Openness to Experience is intellectual curiosity and is associated with creativity and a preference for novelty and variety. Conscientiousness involves planning, organization, dependability and self-discipline. Finally, Neuroticism involves moodiness, negative emotions, and a tendency to perceive even minor things as threatening or impossible. It is thought that most individual personalities can be captured by these five characteristics.
It has been shown that people high in mindfulness are also high in the “Big 5” traits of Conscientiousness, and Neuroticism. It is possible that people high in these traits are more susceptible to the effects of mindfulness training. In today’s Research News article “For Whom Does Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Work? Moderating Effects of Personality.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5506177/, Nyklíček, I., & Irrmischer examine whether the effectiveness of mindfulness training is affected by the individual’s personality. They recruited adults and provided them with Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. MBSR consists of meditation, yoga and body scan and training occurs over 8 weeks in 2.5-hour weekly sessions with daily homework assignments. Before training their personality was measured and before and after training and 3-months later, they were measured for anxiety and depression.
They found that as has been previously demonstrated MBSR resulted in substantial significant reductions in anxiety and depression after training and these mood states continued to improve and were even lower 3 months later. They then tested for mediation effects to determine if personality characteristics affected the MBSR reductions in anxiety and depression. They found that the personality characteristic of neuroticism accentuated the effect such that the higher the levels of neuroticism the greater the reductions in anxiety and depression produced by MBSR. This mediation effect, however, was in part due to the fact that high neuroticism was related to higher depression and anxiety. When they controlled for the levels of depression and anxiety present when the study began, the mediation effect for depression was no longer significant while neuroticism continued to mediate the effect of MBSR on anxiety.
So, they found that MBSR training produces a long-lasting reduction in anxiety and depression. The effect of MBSR on depression occurs equally regardless of personality characteristics. On the other hand, MBSR training reduces anxiety to a greater extent in people high in neuroticism. By focusing attention more on the present moment, MBSR training reduces the past orientation that energizes depression and the future orientation that fuels anxiety. It appears to have its effect on anxiety magnified in highly neurotic people. Neuroticism involves a tendency to perceive even minor things as threatening. Focusing on the present moment interrupts seeing future threat and thereby may make the neuroticism less impactful.
So, mindfulness training benefits neurotic individuals the most.
“By the posture, by the action,
By eating, seeing, and so on,
By the kind of states occurring,
May temperament be recognized.” – Path of Purification
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Nyklíček, I., & Irrmischer, M. (2017). For Whom Does Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Work? Moderating Effects of Personality. Mindfulness, 8(4), 1106–1116. http://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-017-0687-0
The aim of the present study was to examine potentially moderating effects of personality characteristics regarding changes in anxious and depressed mood associated with Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), controlling for socio-demographic factors. Meditation-naïve participants from the general population self-presenting with psychological stress complaints (n = 167 participants, 70% women, mean age 45.8 ± 9.3 years) were assessed in a longitudinal investigation of change in mood before and after the intervention and at a 3-month follow-up. Participants initially scoring high on neuroticism showed stronger decreases in both anxious and depressed mood (both p < 0.001). However, when controlled for baseline mood, only the time by neuroticism interaction effect on anxiety remained significant (p = 0.001), reflecting a smaller decrease in anxiety between pre- and post-intervention but a larger decrease in anxiety between post-intervention and follow-up in those with higher baseline neuroticism scores. Most personality factors did not show moderating effects, when controlled for baseline mood. Only neuroticism showed to be associated with delayed benefit. Results are discussed in the context of findings from similar research using more traditional cognitive-behavioral interventions.