Researchers from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania claim to have revealed new insights in why neurotic people are so prone to evading decision-making.
Neuroticism is a character trait defined by "the experience of chronic negative affect" - say the researchers - that is both easily triggered and difficult to control. Sadness, anxiety, irritability and self-consciousness are all components of this negative affect.
Neurotic people - compared with "emotionally stable" people - will experience clinical depression, guilt and anger much more frequently and severely. They are more susceptible to having phobias and other anxiety disorders. Trivial frustrations can provoke despair, and neurotic people may find everyday situations intimidating.
It is thought that neurotic people tend to avoid action when confronted with major life decisions, which can lead to negative consequences in their lives.
To examine this, the researchers - who published their findings in the Journal of Personality - wanted to see whether neuroticism is associated with positive or negative actions.
Therefore, they investigated whether depression and anxiety decreased "proactive behavior" in neurotic people. They also wanted to see whether the "collectivistic tendencies" of a person - such as considering the social consequences of your actions - influences how neurotic people view "action" and "inaction."
Neurotic people have a negative view of taking action
The researchers found that neurotic people do not view taking action as a positive step, unlike emotionally stable people.
"People who are less emotionally stable have less positive attitudes toward action and more positive attitudes toward inaction," the authors write.
They explain that anxiety is primarily responsible for the negative attitudes toward action in neurotic individuals.
"The link between neuroticism and less positive attitudes toward action was strongest among individuals who endorsed more collectivistic than individualistic beliefs," they claim.
The researchers think that by learning to value action, neurotic people may be able to change their own anxiety-influenced negative behaviors. An example of this would be dealing proactively with stress rather than withdrawing from it.
"People who are interested in reducing the harmful consequences of neuroticism in their own lives should think about how their attitudes toward action might be affecting their behavior," the authors conclude, adding that:
"These findings lay the groundwork for finding new methods of studying and ultimately preventing the negative consequence of neurotic action avoidance. Specifically, increasing exposure to action may be sufficient to combat tendencies to avoid proactive behavior."
In 2012, Medical News Today reported on a study by researchers from the University of Warwick, England, and the University of Minnesota, who found that happiness is significantly threatened by neuroticism.
In that study, the researchers found that highly neurotic people who are well paid are more likely to perceive a pay rise as a failure. This is because people with high levels of neuroticism will view increases of income as a measure of success, and so their life satisfaction will be lowered if they do not think a pay increase is as much as they were expecting.
"These results suggest that we see money more as a device to measure our successes or failures rather than as a means to achieve more comfort," claim the researchers behind that study.