Personality and Depression (ancillary study)

Personality and Depression (ancillary study)

Contact: Almar Kok


Many studies suggest an association between personality and psychopathology. The Five-Factor Model (FFM, McCrae & Costa, 2008), also described as “The Big Five”, is the most widely-adopted empirical framework to describe personality. It includes the following factors: Neuroticism (tendency to experience negative emotions and cope poorly), Extraversion (quantity and intensity of interpersonal interactions and positive emotions), Openness to experience (appreciation of experience for its own sake), Agreeableness (orientation toward others, altruistic vs. antagonistic) and Conscientiousness (organization, motivation, and persistence in achieving goals). To investigate the association between the Big Five personality characteristics and recurrence of depressive symptoms in later life we performed an extra data-collection in LASA in 2005 (Steunenberg et al. 2009).

Measurement instruments in LASA

Only those respondents who had a history of depression on one or more of the first three LASA cycles (Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D) >16; Beekman et al., 1997), but who had recovered at the fourth cycle (CES-D<16; in 2001/2002) were approached to participate. At the time of the fourth measurement cycle the cohort included 1474 (47% of baseline sample) respondents, of whom 306 (21%) with a history of depressive symptoms. Within this subsample 142 (46%) were recovered at the fourth measurement and were approached to participate. Finally, 92 (69%) of the subjects responded.

Personality characteristics were assessed with the NEO Five Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI; Costa and McCrae, 1992; Dutch version, Hoekstra et al., 1996). The NEO-FFI is a shortened version of the NEO PI-R (Costa and McCrae, 1992). The inventory comprises 60 self-descriptive statements in which participants rate the extent to which each statement describes them. Item-scores range on a scale from strongly disagree (0) to strongly agree (4). The scores for each of the five scales are recoded into nine categories with a normal distribution indicating the relative score of an individual compared with the general population. The five dimensions of personality measured by this instrument are Neuroticism (N), Extraversion (E), Openness to Experience (O), Agreeableness (A) and Conscientiousness (C). The reliability coefficients (Cronbach’s alpha) we found in our study for the five scales were the following: neuroticism, 0.75; extraversion, 0.68; openness, 0.60; agreeableness, 0.60; and conscientiousness, 0.74.


NEO-FFI ©. More information.

Variable information

Under Construction

Previous use in LASA

Steunenberg et al. (2009) showed that older adults scoring high on neuroticism had a significantly greater chance of recurrence compared to older adults with a medium or low score on this personality trait. For the other four personality traits, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness and conscientiousness, no significant relationship with recurrence of late life depression was found.


  1. Beekman ATF, Deeg DJH, van Limbeek J, et al. Criterion validity of the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression scale (CES-D): results from a community based sample of older adults in the Netherlands. Psychol. Med. 1997, 27, 231-235.
  2. Steunenberg B, Braam AW, Beekman ATF, Deeg DJH, Kerkhof AJFM. Evidence for an association of the big five personality factors with recurrence of depressive symptoms in later life. Int J Ger Psychiatry. 2009. 24, 1470-1477.
  3. Costa PT, McCrae RR. Revised professional manual NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R) and NEO five-factor inventory (NEO-FFI). Psychological Assessment Resources: Odessa,  1992.
  4. McCrae RR & Costa PT. The five factor theory of personality. In: Handbook of Personality: Theory and research, 3rd ed., pp.159-181. NY: Guilford Press, 2008.

Date of last update: August, 2016