Big Five aspects of personality interact to predict depression

Timothy A. Allen, Bridget E. Carey, Carolina Mcbride, R. Michael Bagby, Colin G. Deyoung, Lena C. Quilty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


Objective: Research has shown that three personality traits—Neuroticism, Extraversion, and Conscientiousness—moderate one another in a three-way interaction that predicts depressive symptoms in healthy populations. We test the hypothesis that this effect is driven by three lower-order traits: withdrawal, industriousness, and enthusiasm. We then replicate this interaction within a clinical population for the first time. Method: Sample 1 included 376 healthy adults. Sample 2 included 354 patients diagnosed with current major depressive disorder. Personality and depressive tendencies were assessed via the Big Five Aspect Scales and Personality Inventory for DSM-5 in Sample 1, respectively, and by the NEO-PI-R and Beck Depression Inventory-II in Sample 2. Results: Withdrawal, industriousness, and enthusiasm interacted to predict depressive tendencies in both samples. The pattern of the interaction supported a “best two out of three” principle, in which low risk scores on two trait dimensions protects against a high risk score on the third trait. Evidence was also present for a “worst two out of three” principle, in which high risk scores on two traits are associated with equivalent depressive severity as high risk scores on all three traits. Conclusions: These results highlight the importance of examining interactive effects of personality traits on psychopathology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)714-725
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of personality
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: Operating costs for all three randomized controlled trials included in this study were supported by the Ontario Mental Health Foundation. Trainee support to TA was provided through the Canadian Biomarker Integration Network in Depression (CAN-BIND), an Integrated Discovery Program carried out in partnership with, and financial support from, the Ontario Brain Institute, an independent nonprofit corporation, funded partially by the Ontario government. The opinions, results, and conclusions are those of the authors, and no endorsement by the Ontario Brain Institute is intended or should be inferred.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


  • Five-Factor Model
  • assessment
  • major depressive disorder
  • personality


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