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Psychological Distress and Personality among Adults

Citywide Differences in Personality and Psychological Distress among Selected Adults


This research work is a study on citywide differences in personality and psychological distress among selected adults. The research work specifies that there will be no significant relationship between personality and psychological distress. It also specifies that there will be no positive difference between males and females in their experience of psychological distress. The researcher used 203 participants (115 males, 88 females) with mean age of 29.93 and standard deviation age 7.0.  Symptom Distress Checklist and Eysenck Personality Questionnaire were used for the study. Pearson moment correlation and independent t-test were used in data analysis. The results concurred with the two hypotheses that there will be no significant relationship between personality and psychological distress and that there will be no positive difference between males and females in there experience of psychological distress.



Background of Study

Personality is an important determinant of health and psychological distress (Contrada, Leventhal, & O’ Leary 1990). Although researchers have not fully understood how personality leads to psychological distress, it has become clear that stressful experiences and how people cope with them play an important explanatory role (Bolger & Schilling, 1991).  Psychological distress has been conceptually defined as a “unique, discomforting, emotional state experienced by an individual in response to a specific stressor or demand that results in harm, either temporary, or permanent, to the person” (Ridner, 2004).  The nature of the experience may be psychological (Cognitive, behavior, emotion), Social and / or spiritual such that an individuals ability to cope with the stressor, its physical symptoms and treatment are affected (Ridner 2004).  Vachon (2006) further explained psychological distress as psychological discomfort that interferers with your activities of daily living.  Psychological distress occurs when external events or stressors place demand upon us that we are unable to cope with (Ridner, 2004). Cancer, Divorce or moving to a new state all have the potential to cause psychological distress.  The symptoms of psychological distress include;- sadness, anxiety, weight gain, hallucinations and delusions.  Since no two persons respond to a situation in the exact same way, psychological distress is a very subjective experience centered on the personality of an individual (Adams, 2002).  Psychological distress can interfere in our work performance, academic performance and our relationship with other people (Ridner, 2004).

Studies on psychological distress have consistently reported gender difference: women experience more distress than men.  (Almeida & Kessler, 1989).  Researchers have explored the gender distress relationship from personality formation perspective. According to them, women are more distressed than men because women’s roles expose them to more stressors (Mc Donough & Walter 2001).  Research from this perspective has demonstrated how differential emotional reactivity and exposure to stressors contribute to gender differences in psychological distress.

This research will provide a brief overview of research, addressing city wide differences in personality and psychological distress among selected adults.  It intends to discover how difference in personality gender has correlated with the experience of psychological distress.

Statement of Problems

Just as mental illness can influence all aspects of one’s life, psychological distress can also impact our functioning (Adams 2004).  It can affect our social life (Ridner, 2004).  Research has linked psychological distress to a number of adverse healths.  Psychological distress is a risk factor for stroke, stroke-related deaths and suicide.  The impact of psychological distress in evident, yet there are limited literatures and research on it.

Personality as a correlate to psychological distress is yet to be fully investigated.  Psychologist and clinicians are yet to be well equipped with sufficient ideas in tackling this risk factor.  It is therefore for this purpose that this research calls up.

Purpose of Study

The purpose of this study is to determine the relationship between personality and psychological distress.

The study will also try to identify weather there is positive difference how males and females experience psychological distress.

With evidence of insufficient knowledge on gender, personality and psychological distress, this research therefore intends to provide such knowledge and information.

Significance of Study

This research intend to contribute to general knowledge about personality and psychological distress through;-

  1. The provision of accurate knowledge about this two constructs.
  2. It will also reveal the link between personality and psychological distress.
  3. The study will show the extent to which personality is related to psychological distress.
  4. The study will offer solutions, suggestions and lay the foundation for further studies on personality and psychological distress.

Research Question

In the course of this study, the following question will tend to guide the researcher.

  1. Will there be significant relationship between personality and psychological distress.
  2. Will there be positive difference in how males experience psychological distress and how females experience the same psychological distress.


  1. There is no significant relationship between personality and psychological distress.
  2. There is no positive difference between males and females in their experience of psychological distress.



The majority of previous literature on psychological distress has studied the relationship between personality and psychological distress.  In addition, several such studies adopted moderators or coping behavior as factors (Rotter, 1996, Parkes, 1985); Newton and Keenan, 1990).  Several factors serve as potential moderators of stressor strain relationships, these include type “A” behavior pattern, internally externally ( 1 – E) and hardiness.

Type A refers to a behavioural style characterized by ambitiousness, aggressiveness, competitiveness, impatience, potential for hostility and a hard driving nature; furthermore, it is characterized by motor responses such as muscle tenseness, a rigorous speech pattern, and rapidity in movement.  1 – E which is also called locus of control (LOC), was also adopted as a moderator by several studies (Newton and Keenan 1990).  I – E is often described as a personality – like variable that might affect the long term coping pattern of individuals, LOC refers to the differences in beliefs concerning personal control, represented by the continuum from internally to externally.  “Internals” believe that reinforcements are contingent upon their own behavior, capacities, or attributes”.  In contrast “external” believe that reinforcements are not under their personal control but rather are under the control of powerful others, luck chance, fate and so forth (Rotter, 1996).

In order to understand the processes related to psychological distress, it is necessary to explore how individuals behave in response to perceived distress (ie coping behavior) and to examine the relationship between potentially stressful incidents and psychological distress.

Conceptual Analysis of Personality

Personality can be described as a dynamic and organized set of characteristics possessed by a person that uniquely influences his or her cognitions, motivations, and behaviours in various situations (Wagner 2004).  The word “Personality” originates from the Latin persona, which means mask.  Significantly, in the theatre of the ancient Latin – speaking world, the mask was not used as a plot device to disguise.  The identity of a character, but rather was a convention employed to represent or typify that character.

The pioneering American psychologist, Gordon Allport (1937) – described two major ways to study personality, the nomethetic and the idiographic.  Nomethetic psychology seeks general laws that can be applied to many different people, such as the principle of self actualization or the trait of extraversion.  Idiographic psychology is an attempt to understand the unique aspects of a particular individuals.

The study of personality has a rich and varied history in psychology with an abundance of theoretical traditions.  These theories explained different aspects of personality.  Some theories focus on explaining how personality develops while others are concerned with individual differences in personality.

Personality as a Determinant of Psychological Distress.

Personality is an important determinate of psychological distress and health(Contrada, Leventhal and O’leary, 1990, Friedman 1990).  Bolger & Schilling. (1991) proposed a framework that combines trait and process approaches to the study of personality.  This framework also specify that personality may affect exposure to psychological distressful events, reactivity to those events, or both and that these processes can help explain how personality affects outcomes (Bolger & Zuckerman, 2004).  Bolger and Schilling (1991) specifies that personality differences in reactivity to psychological stressors can be due to differential choice of coping strategies, differential effectiveness of the strategies chosen or both.

According to Bolger and Schilling (1991) the distress process can be divided into two fundamental stages, stressor exposure and distress reactivity.  Exposure is the extent to which a person is likely to experience a distressful event.  Reactivity is the extent to which a person is likely to show emotional or physical reactions to a distressful event.  They asserts that four possibilities arise from the foregoing.  The first possibility is that personality does not affect either exposure or reactivity to psychological distressful events cannot explain any affect of personality on health and psychological outcome (distress).

The second possibility is that personality affects exposure but not reactivity to stressors; once these events occur they affect every one in the same way.  Assuming this common reactivity is menzero, stressor exposure will help explain personality effects (Differential exposure model) Cohen and Cohen, 1985).

Personality leads to exposure to stressors, which in turn, leads to psychological distress.  Although this is plausible model for explaining the role of personality in distress outcomes, it has rarely been used in psychological distress literatures.

A notable exception is a recent study by Ormel J. & Wohelfarth .T. (1991) showing that exposure to life changes partly mediated the relationship between neuroticism and psychological distress.  In personality literature, however, there has been increasing interest in the role of personality to exposure to situations (Snyder, M. & Ickes, W (1985), and it has been argued that exposure processes can account for some of the outcomes of personality.

The third possibility is that there are personality differences in reactivity to stressors but no personality differences in exposure.  Assuming this common exposure is nonzero, differential reactivity will help explain the effects of

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