Intelligence and neuroticism in relation to depression and psychological distress: Evidence from two large population cohorts

Lauren Navrady, Stuart J Ritchie, Stella W. Y. Chan, D Kerr, Mark Adams, Emma Hawkins, David Porteous, Ian Deary, Catharine Gale, G. D. Batty, Andrew McIntosh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Neuroticism is a risk factor for selected mental and physical illnesses and is inversely associated with intelligence. Intelligence appears to interact with neuroticism and mitigate its detrimental effects on physical health and mortality. However, the inter-relationships of neuroticism and intelligence for major depressive disorder (MDD) and psychological distress has not been well examined.

Associations and interactions between neuroticism and general intelligence (g) on MDD, self-reported depression, and psychological distress were examined in two population-based cohorts: Generation Scotland: Scottish Family Health Study (GS:SFHS, n = 19,200) and UK Biobank (n = 90,529). The Eysenck Personality Scale Short Form-Revised measured neuroticism and g was extracted from multiple cognitive ability tests in each cohort. Family structure was adjusted for in GS:SFHS.

Neuroticism was strongly associated with increased risk for depression and higher psychological distress in both samples. Although intelligence conferred no consistent independent effects on depression, it did increase the risk for depression across samples once neuroticism was adjusted for. Results suggest that higher intelligence may ameliorate the association between neuroticism and self-reported depression although no significant interaction was found for clinical MDD. Intelligence was inversely associated with psychological distress across cohorts. A small interaction was found across samples such that lower psychological distress associates with higher intelligence and lower neuroticism, although effect sizes were small.

From two large cohort studies, our findings suggest intelligence acts a protective factor in mitigating the effects of neuroticism on psychological distress. Intelligence does not confer protection against diagnosis of depression in those high in neuroticism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)58-65
JournalEuropean Psychiatry
Early online date17 Jan 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 Jan 2017


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