Personality traits and combat exposure as predictors of psychopathology over time

E. Koffel, M. D. Kramer, P. A. Arbisi, C. R. Erbes, M. Kaler, M. A. Polusny

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Background. Research suggests that personality traits have both direct and indirect effects on the development of psychological symptoms, with indirect effects mediated by stressful or traumatic events. This study models the direct influence of personality traits on residualized changes in internalizing and externalizing symptoms following a stressful and potentially traumatic deployment, as well as the indirect influence of personality on symptom levels mediated by combat exposure. Method. We utilized structural equation modeling with a longitudinal prospective study of 522 US National Guard soldiers deployed to Iraq. Analyses were based on self-report measures of personality, combat exposure, and internalizing and externalizing symptoms. Results. Both pre-deployment Disconstraint and externalizing symptoms predicted combat exposure, which in turn predicted internalizing and externalizing symptoms. There was a significant indirect effect for pre-deployment externalizing symptoms on post-deployment externalizing via combat exposure (p < 0.01). Negative Emotionality and pre-deployment internalizing symptoms directly predicted post-deployment internalizing symptoms, but both were unrelated to combat exposure. No direct effects of personality on residualized changes in externalizing symptoms were found. Conclusions. Baseline symptom dimensions had significant direct and indirect effects on post-deployment symptoms. Controlling for both pre-exposure personality and symptoms, combat experiences remained positively related to both internalizing and externalizing symptoms. Implications for diagnostic classification are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)209-220
Number of pages12
JournalPsychological medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015.


  • Externalizing disorders
  • internalizing disorders
  • personality
  • personality traits and combat exposure as predictors of psychopathology over time
  • trauma


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