Stable personality traits have long been presumed to have biological substrates, although the evidence relating personality to biological stress reactivity is inconclusive. The present study examined, in a large middle aged cohort (N = 352), the relationship between key personality traits and both cortisol and cardiovascular reactions to acute psychological stress. Salivary cortisol and cardiovascular activity were measured at rest and in response to a psychological stress protocol comprising 5 min each of a Stroop task, mirror tracing, and a speech task. Participants subsequently completed the Big Five Inventory to assess neuroticism, agreeableness, openness to experience, extraversion, and conscientiousness. Those with higher neuroticism scores exhibited smaller cortisol and cardiovascular stress reactions, whereas participants who were less agreeable and less open had smaller cortisol and cardiac reactions to stress. These associations remained statistically significant following adjustment for a range of potential confounding variables. Thus, a negative personality disposition would appear to be linked to diminished stress reactivity. These findings further support a growing body of evidence which suggests that blunted stress reactivity may be maladaptive.
- Acute stress
- Cardiovascular activity