Study Links Parkinson’s Disease and Neuroticism

Summary: A new study reveals those who score high on the personality traits associated with neuroticism are at higher risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.

Source: Florida State University

New research from the Florida State University College of Medicine has found that the personality trait neuroticism is consistently associated with a higher risk of developing the brain disorder Parkinson’s disease.

The research by Professor of Geriatrics Antonio Terracciano and team, published in Movement Disorders, found that adults in the study who scored in the top quartile of neuroticism had more than 80% greater risk of Parkinson’s, compared to those who scored lower on neuroticism.

“Some clinicians think that the anxiety and depression is just the result of Parkinson’s,” Terracciano said. “However, our findings suggest that some emotional vulnerability is present early in life, years before the development of Parkinson’s disease.”

The effects were similar for women and men and across socioeconomic strata. Furthermore, the association was virtually unchanged in models that excluded incident cases within the first five years of follow-up and remained significant in models that accounted for demographic variables and other risk factors, including smoking, physical activity, anxiety and depression.

Three similar studies have published results consistent with Terracciano’s findings, but with smaller sample sizes. Collectively, they provide a “pretty robust and replicable” assessment of the link between neuroticism and Parkinson’s, Terracciano said.

“It kind of gives you a better understanding of the risk factors for the disease and what could be a contributing cause,” he said. “This is one of many [factors], but the evidence is convincing.”

Globally, an estimated six million people suffer from Parkinson’s disease — about 1% of all older adults — making it the second most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s. The causes of Parkinson’s disease are not well understood, but scientists believe genetic and environmental factors contribute to its onset.

Neuroticism is a personality trait that measures individual differences in the tendency to experience negative emotions, vulnerability to stress, inability to resist urges and self-consciousness. It is one of the five major personality traits known as the “Big Five” or five-factor model of personality and is one of the most studied psychological dispositions for its relevance spanning normal to abnormal emotional functioning.

Neuroticism has been linked to mood disorders and Alzheimer’s, but there have been fewer studies on its prospective connection with Parkinson’s.

“Individuals who score high in neuroticism are at higher risk for poor health outcomes across the lifespan, particularly in the domain of mental health and neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias,” Terracciano said.

Central to Terracciano’s research was a large-scale study by the UK Biobank, which recruited nearly a half-million individuals ages 40-69 between 2006 and 2010, and collected data obtained over nearly 12 years of follow up. A baseline assessment measured neuroticism. There were 1,142 identified cases of Parkinson’s ascertained through UK National Health Service electronic health records or death records up to 2018.

This shows the outline of a head
The effects were similar for women and men and across socioeconomic strata. Image is in the public domain

“Anxiety and depression are comorbid with Parkinson’s disease,” Terracciano said. “Many people with Parkinson’s tend to be anxious or tend to get depressed. Part of that could be due to the disease and how it alters the brain and can have an influence on emotions. Part could be a psychological reaction of having a diagnosis of the disease.”

Parkinson’s is a long-term degenerative brain disorder that causes progressive decline of motor and physical functions. As the disease progresses, nerve cell damage in the brain causes dopamine levels to drop, leading to symptoms such as tremors, slow movement, stiffness and loss of balance. Dopamine is known as a “feel-good” hormone involved in reward, motivation, memory and attention in addition to regulating body movements.

Terracciano led the research team, which included Damaris Aschwanden, a post-doctoral researcher in the FSU Department of Geriatrics, and Angelina Sutin, professor in the FSU Department of Behavioral Sciences and Social Medicine. Researchers from the University of Montpellier in France; the National Research Council, Sant’Anna Institute and Tor Vergata University of Rome in Italy; and the University of Cambridge in the United Kingston contributed to this study.

About this Parkinson’s disease research news

Source: Florida State University
Contact: Bob Thomas – Florida State University
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Closed access.
Neuroticism and Risk of Parkinson’s Disease: A Meta‐Analysis” by Antonio Terracciano et al. Movement Disorders


Neuroticism and Risk of Parkinson’s Disease: A Meta‐Analysis


Neuroticism is linked to mood disorders and Alzheimer’s disease, but fewer studies have tested the prospective association with Parkinson’s disease (PD).


To examine the association between neuroticism and risk of PD in a large cohort and a meta‐analysis of prospective cohort studies.


Participants from the UK Biobank (N = 490,755) completed a neuroticism scale in 2006–2010. Incident PD was ascertained using electronic health records or death records up to 2018. The systematic search and meta‐analysis followed the MOOSE guidelines.


During 11.91 years of follow‐up (mean = 8.88 years; 4,360,105 person‐years) 1142 incident PD cases were identified. Neuroticism was associated with higher risk of incident PD, both as continuous (HR = 1.28; 95% CI: 1.21–1.36) and categorical variable (top vs. bottom quartiles: HR = 1.88; 95% CI: 1.60–2.22). The association remained significant after accounting for age, sex, smoking, physical activity, anxiety, and depressed mood, and after excluding cases that occurred within the first 5 years of follow‐up. The associations were similar for women and men and across levels of socioeconomic status. Random‐effect meta‐analysis of four prospective studies (N = 548,284) found neuroticism associated with increased risk of incident PD (HR = 1.82; 95% CI: 1.59–2.08; P = 7.31−19). There was no evidence of heterogeneity across studies with follow‐ups ranging from one to four decades.


The results from the large UK Biobank and meta‐analysis of prospective studies indicate that neuroticism is consistently associated with a higher risk of incident PD.

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