Bipolar disorder is known for shifts in mood. People with the disorder go from manic or hypomanic to depression to remission in a mostly unpredictable pattern. These are just moods. They are not constant. They are not permanent aspects of a person’s personality. Recognizing personality traits consistent in those with bipolar disorder may be important to predicting the course and severity of their illness. New research has come closer to confirming that there are three personality traits that those with bipolar disorder tend to have more than the general population.

There are hundreds of personality traits that can be used to describe a person. Are they adventurous or risk-aversive? What about innovative, intelligent, forgetful or disorganized? Rather than study each of the traits individually, psychologists have divided personality traits into five different categories, often called the Big 5. These are extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness and neuroticism. Each of these acts as an umbrella to the other hundreds of traits.

A new study, led by Timea Sparding and published in BMC Psychiatry, sought to find if there are differences in personality traits not only between those with bipolar disorder and the general population, but also between those with bipolar I and bipolar II.

They followed 110 people with bipolar I, 85 people with bipolar II and 86 healthy controls over a two-year period. To assess personality, they used the Swedish universities Scales of Personality (SSP). The SSP measures 91 items divided into 13 scales. Responses are rated from 1 (does not apply at all) to 4 (applies completely). The findings are summarized into three categories: neuroticism, aggressiveness and disinhibition.

The researchers found that people with bipolar disorder scored higher than most of the healthy controls on:

Neuroticism is characterized by emotional instability. People high in neuroticism tend to experience high levels of anxiety and have dramatic shifts in mood. People low in neuroticism tend to be more emotionally stable and have less anxiety. In the study, those with bipolar disorder scored higher than those without on neuroticism in all areas except lack of assertiveness.

Extraversion mainly measures a person’s sociability, assertiveness, and emotional expressiveness. People high in extraversion tend to have more friends and acquaintances, be more outgoing, feel energized around others and are more likely to start conversations. People low in extraversion are introverted. They mostly prefer to be alone or in small groups, they dislike being the center of attention and tend to think before they speak. The results of the study indicated that a significant amount of people with bipolar disorder scored higher on extraversion than the healthy controls.

Disinhibition is essentially the other side of conscientiousness. People who are conscientious tend to be efficient, organized, ambitious and cautious. People who score high on disinhibition, on the other hand tend to be disorganized, aimless and rash. Those who score lower on conscientiousness may dislike structure and schedules, miss deadlines and procrastinate more. A significant amount of people with bipolar disorder scored higher in disinhibition than the healthy controls, especially in irritability and impulsiveness, both characteristics that are found in bipolar disorder.

The researchers did not find a significant difference in scores between those with bipolar I versus bipolar II. They also did not find any evidence that personality profile predicted course of illness over the two-year period, though previous studies have found that people who are more prone to depression tend to score higher in neuroticism and lower in extraversion.

It’s important to keep in mind that not all people with bipolar disorder will have these personality traits. These findings cover people with bipolar disorder in general. It is entirely possible to be a conscientious introvert with bipolar disorder as much as it is possible to be a neurotic extrovert.



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Image credit: HAMZA BUTT