Neurotics Prefer To Stick With Inaction
April 23, 2014

Neurotics Look More Favorably On Inaction Rather Than Action

April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

We all know someone who seems to be paralyzed when it comes time to taking action. We might even tease that person and call them neurotic. It turns out, people who are neurotic aren't unable to act. They simply don't want to.

A new study, published in the Journal of Personality, examined nearly 4,000 college students in 19 countries to determine why neurotic people may avoid making decisions and moving forward with their lives.

The research team, led by Dolores Albarracin of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, found that when asked about an action that would be considered positive, favorable or good, the neurotic person doesn't like the action as much as a non-neurotic person would. They suggest that therapeutic approaches for neurotics should, therefore, include persuasive communication to alter the neurotic person's attitude toward the action.

A person with a neurotic personality trait displays a chronic negative affect, which can include sadness, anxiety, irritability, and self-consciousness. Unfortunately for most sufferers, neuroticism is easily triggered and difficult to control. When confronted with both major and minor life stressors, neurotic individuals often avoid acting at all — leading to negative life consequences.

The focus of the research team was to understand whether and under what circumstances neuroticism is associated with favorable or unfavorable representations of action or inaction. Two factors were considered in the study. First, they investigated whether depression and anxiety would decrease proactive behavior among neurotic individuals. Then, they determined whether a person’s collectivistic tendencies – considering the social consequences of one’s behavior before acting – would moderate the negative associations between neuroticism and action/inaction. The results revealed that neurotic persons look more favorably on inaction than emotionally stable individuals do.

“People who are less emotionally stable have less positive attitudes towards action and more positive attitudes toward inaction,” the authors said in a recent statement. “Furthermore, anxiety was primarily responsible for neurotic individuals’ less positive attitudes toward action. The link between neuroticism and less positive attitudes toward action was strongest among individuals who endorsed more collectivistic than individualistic beliefs.” This means that a neurotic person who explicitly dislikes action is probably collectivistic in their thought processes–favoring social harmony, family and friends.

“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. By learning to value action, they may be able to change many of the negative behaviors associated with neuroticism and anxiety – such as freezing when they should act, or withdrawing from stress instead of dealing proactively with it,” the authors concluded.

The researchers suggest that there are broad consequences derived from attitudes about action and inaction goals. These consequences reach across diverse contexts and cultures.

“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.”

The current study is part of continued research on attitudes. Last year, the team published findings concerning action-inaction balance in cultural values in the same countries. Those results were published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.