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Testing explanatory models of the interplay between depression, neuroticism, and stressful life events: a dynamic trait-stress generation approach

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 October 2019

Brandon L. Goldstein*
Department of Psychology, Stony Brook University, NY, USA Department of Psychiatry, University of Connecticut School of Medicine, CT, USA
Greg Perlman
Department of Psychiatry, Stony Brook Medicine, NY, USA
Nicholas R. Eaton
Department of Psychology, Stony Brook University, NY, USA
Roman Kotov
Department of Psychology, Stony Brook University, NY, USA Department of Psychiatry, Stony Brook Medicine, NY, USA
Daniel N. Klein
Department of Psychology, Stony Brook University, NY, USA
Author for correspondence: Brandon L. Goldstein, E-mail:



Classic conceptual frameworks explaining the relationship of personality traits to depression include the precursor and predisposition models. The former hypothesizes that depression is predicted by traits alone whereas the latter hypothesizes that stress, together with personality, predicts depression. Dynamic vulnerability models (DVM) expand on these perspectives by incorporating fluctuations in personality over time. The stress generation model provides an alternative view, positing that depression generates stress, creating a self-perpetuating cycle. However, these conceptual models are rarely directly compared.


We tested these models, focusing on neuroticism and stressful life events that the participant may have contributed to, using path analysis in a sample of 550 never-depressed, adolescent females assessed five times over 3 years.


A dynamic precursor model with stress generation was best supported. For the precursor component, neuroticism predicted subsequent depression across four assessment intervals. For the dynamic trait component, stressful life events predicted subsequent neuroticism at three of four intervals. Finally, in line with stress generation, depression consistently predicted subsequent stressful life events, and life events then predicted depression.


Finding support for the DVM is noteworthy, as this is the first comprehensive test of this model. Moreover, results supported integrating stress generation with trait vulnerability. Continued use of integrated approaches and refining the statistical implementation of these theories is necessary to advance understanding of the development of depression.

Original Articles
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2019

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